There was a time when a little horror movie was being developed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next) under the moniker “The Woods”. Then, in an abrupt turn of events two months ago at San Diego Comic Con, that film was revealed to be a third entry in the Blair Witch series. To help keep the secret while in production Wingard actually filmed the movie in Vancouver, as opposed to the original being filmed on location in Burkittsville, Maryland. I think it’s safe to say that nobody saw this coming, especially nearly 20 years after The Blair Witch Project took the nation by storm. Immediately following the reveal I was extremely void of excitement. The trailer looked like a cheap attempt at rebooting a classic and left me with not only a bad taste in my mouth, but a streak of anger. But as the release date got closer and the reviews started pouring out I found not a single write-up that condemned Blair Witch as I assumed they all would. So, I decided to re-balance my expectations and see it in the theater. Maybe there was a lot more to this incarnation that wasn’t hinted at in the trailer.
It turns out I was right about there not being much else from what was shown in the previews. However, Blair Witch did leave me partly satisfied with its content. It scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. It has its flaws but they don’t completely ruin the movie, just hamper it. It sticks to the exact formula as one would expect and that’s my biggest complaint.
Blair Witch is about the brother of the girl that went missing in the first film. He finds a video on the internet that claims to be newly discovered footage of his sister’s. He then grabs some friends and sets out to find the area where she disappeared. Antics in the woods ensue and at the end they find the witch’s house. I was hoping for something beyond the house but it was like the suits behind the scenes just wanted it to be a soft reboot. If they got to the house about half way through and then ventured on to something even more terrifying it might have helped. The characters’ uncertainty with the authenticity of their discoveries early on might have been the foundation to build something new and interesting, but, like with other avenues to do so presented throughout, the filmmakers squandered potential.
The lack of Burkittsville townsfolk interviews in the first act was another missed opportunity to craft a better sense of realism and expound upon the local legends and lore. Instead they went a different route and conveyed some of those stories through some questionable last minute party members the main group meets up with and while I thought they were a breath of fresh air I would have preferred the former. Something else that bugged me was that the group brings one of those expensive new drones along with them and they do absolutely nothing with it! There are so many possibilities I can think of stemming from that one object alone that would have made a couple scenes at least a bit more interesting. At this point you might be wondering what I did like about the movie!
By far the best aspect of Blair Witch is its sound design. Some might think the creepy groans and crackling ambiance is too in-your-face, but for a series based on not seeing the monster, a rich audioscape is a must have. That was the one thing that had me on the edge of my seat for most of the 89 minute runtime, even when nothing visually interesting was happening. I was hoping the booming sounds in the woods would be explained as something other than the witch. For example, a giant beast made of broken tree branches or a demon-pet loyal to the witch. The final act in the witch house was definitely the most engaging segment- where shit finally lets loose. All of a sudden I found myself wanting to be watching this movie with a VR headset on to increase the anxiety those last scenes brought on. That’s just one more way Blair Witch could have been more competent, but until someone else comes along to make the inevitable sequel, fans of the franchise will be stuck waiting with a semi-sweet taste in their mouths.
3 giant stick men out of 5