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Director: Adam Wingard

Genre: Horror

Year: 2016

BLAIR WITCH is, by far, a more entertaining film than 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. As a horror fan, I will always give props to the original for its innovative marketing campaign and introduction of groundbreaking new filming techniques to the masses. However, the entire film is built around an ending, a single shot. And, as chilling as that ending is, you have to sit through 80 minutes of nauseous camerawork and shrill yelling to get there. Adam Wingard’s take on the franchise is more about the journey than the destination and, oh, what a journey it is.

Set 20 years after the events of the of the original movie, BLAIR WITCH follows six young adults that venture into the Burkittsville, Maryland woods after discovering additional footage shot by the ill-fated protagonists from the first film. James (James Allen McCune) is desperate to find his sister Heather after two decades, bringing along three friends, a couple locals to guide, and an arsenal of cameras. As the group ventures deeper into the forest, they begin to find themselves walking in circles, hearing strange noises at night, and discovering stick figures in the trees…

blair witch

Maybe he just really misunderstood the rules to Four Corners

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Sound familiar? Initially, BLAIR WITCH leads you to believe that it’s a retread, or pseudo-reboot, of the ‘99 classic. But to believe this is to fall into the movie’s trap. Wingard creates a set of expectations by pulling us in with familiarity before shoving terror down our throats.

I judge a film’s fear-factor based on how high off the floor my feet are in the theater. For the second half of BLAIR WITCH, my knees were above my head. There are a fair number of effective jump scares, but the real horror comes from the film’s hallucinatory quality. As the camera jerks back and forth and the deeply unsettling soundscape of the woods is unleashed, you suddenly feel like the seventh party stranded out there. BLAIR WITCH isn’t likely to pull in many awards, but it deserves something for its sound design. The eerie mixture of voices, animals, and intense rumbling that permeate the woods is enough for anyone to wet themselves.

While it may seem like Wingard is moving in the wrong direction of the industry by employing the declining found footage format, he manages to execute it effectively and add some fresh spins on the technique. A drone introduced by the characters functions as more than just a gimmick by helping shape their peril. There is a supreme sense of dread as the mini-helicopter takes flight because we have no idea what horror they’ll find…or not find, above the trees.

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Always obey the eerie rotting sign. Always

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Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner deserves praise for his subtle lighting of the film. Many studio found footage movies are too slick. You can tell the character prancing around with a camcorder is actually a professional cameraman dancing around with a RED and a dozen artificial lights. In BLAIR WITCH, the only source of light appears to be the characters’ handheld flashlights, enhancing the already unbearable sense of isolation.

I do, however, want to make one thing clear: This is not a groundbreaking horror film. Yes, I very much liked it, but please keep your expectations in check. While a certain well-known horror blog may have led fans to believe that BLAIR WITCH is “A new beginning for horror films” in the first trailer, I assure you that it is not. Is it one of the scariest movies ever made? No. Is it even Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s best film? No.

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All hype

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If you were blown away by the movie’s clever Comic Con reveal this year and giddily read the overwhelmingly positive early reviews like me, then your expectations are likely that you’ll be witnessing something revolutionary for the genre. Take a breath. This may sound silly, but the hype surrounding this film in the horror community is at unreasonably high levels. Fans will potentially spoil a really fun time at the movies if they go in with the expectation that there is something more (coincidentally, hype like this is what lead to the backlash against the original film…). But thanks to being chock-full of scares and cleverly building on the previous film, BLAIR WITCH is the sequel you didn’t know you needed.

Verdict: Recommend

Michael is a horror movie lover and fast food connoisseur. Mark McGrath once dedicated a song to him at a Sugar Ray concert.

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