Blair Witch: Found Something New, by David Bax
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999) did not invent the “found footage” subgenre of horror movies. But its success, both commercial and artistic, is rightly credited with sparking the massive proliferation of such movies that has continued throughout the 21st century so far. Adam Wingard’s new sequel, with the streamlined moniker Blair Witch, gambles by revisiting the premise, location and technique of its masterful forebear. With Myrick and Sanchez’s footprint still so apparent, do we need this movie? I’m happy to report that Wingard and his longtime screenwriter Simon Barrett more than justify their venture, returning craft and genuine terror to the found footage modality while respectfully updating it for a generation that has grown up with and grown savvy about these movies.
James (James Allen McCune) is the younger (much younger) brother of Heather, our ill-fated protagonist from the original film. When a pair of amateur ghost hunters (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) post a video online that they claim is new footage of Heather recently discovered in the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland, James and three friends (Lisa Arlington, Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott) set out to see if they can put a rest to the mystery of what happened to his sister.
Seventeen years ago, Heather, Mike and Josh had only two cameras with them. This crew of millennials have handheld cameras, GoPros, phones, drones and more, bringing the total up to roughly a dozen sources of video footage and freeing Wingard up with shot choices and framing selections unavailable to his predecessors. Wingard doesn’t just utilize this for technical freedom. He also seizes on our culture of reflexive self-documentation. The biggest suspension of disbelief in the original film had to do with buying that they would keep filming. Now, the choice isn’t when to turn a camera on, it’s when to turn it off.
As you may have deduced from the cast members listed above, Blair Witch continues the horror sequel tradition of expanding the cast in order to increase the body count; for what it’s worth, no mention is made of the other sequel, Book of Shadows, so I won’t invoke it any further here either. There are double the number of potential victims this time around. The performances are never below serviceable, though McCune’s boyish, Jonathan Rhys Meyers-clone carriage is a little weak to hang a leading role on. Still, it’s hard to escape the obviousness of these people’s role as witch fodder. Robinson and Curry are the highlights, unscrupulous character who nonetheless elicit sympathy when truly awful things begin to happen to them.
Barrett’s screenplay remains respectful of the first film, while expanding the mythology of the Blair Witch herself. Updates in visual effects technology allow for the Witch to have stronger and more dire powers than we’ve seen previously (on a related note, don’t watch the trailer). Wingard and Barrett also bring us new types of scares, fleshing out the franchise (no pun intended) into body horror and other modes.
Blair Witch passes the sequel test by making a good case for its own existence while preserving the primacy of the original. And, oh yeah, it’s damned scary too.