In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was something of a phenomenon, a made-for-buttons movie that became a resounding success, both critically and financially. The pared back plot, the found-footage concept, the shaky-cam and the ingenious blending of the story with real life (fake news reports, the actors listed as ‘missing, presumed dead’ on IMDb, etc.) all combined to make a movie that felt – if a little ragged – at least original and compelling.
The same cannot be said for this 2016 reincarnation. Although ostensibly a sequel (Heather’s brother heads into the woods to search for his sister, taking along a group of friends, one of whom just happens – who’d have thought it? – to be a film student, making a documentary), it’s essentially the same story – but worse.
These adventurers have better technology than their predecessors (they’re definitely from the richer, privileged echelons of society, with student budgets that allow them to buy drones and tiny cameras with built-in GPS) but it doesn’t really help them – or us. The GPS doesn’t work properly in the haunted woods, the drone crashes – and we’re still left watching a load of blurry shaky images.
Where the original used the power of suggestion, showing little and leaving much to the imagination, this new movie shows us too much. The Blair Witch is far less scary when she’s visible, just a dime-a-dollar horror prop. And there are too many jump scares that are all the same: a loud noise, it’s getting closer, oh it’s you, please don’t do that! In fact, it’s repetitive all round. We don’t just run through the house once, we have to follow a second character in there too. And potentially interesting ideas are set up but then fade to nought (what’s the point of showing us Lane’s confederate flag if nothing else he does links back to it?).
It works on some levels: there is tension and a little suspense. The acting is fine. Some of it looks good. But, overall, this is one to miss. It doesn’t stand up to the original.