I was never as excited or even remotely interested about anything regarding The Blair Witch Project until I learned that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s new film, its title hidden in marketing until finally being revealed at its premiere two months before its release, was revealed to be a sequel to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s landmark 1999 film. I was too young and uncultured to be aware of the film at the time of its original release, and I never visited the film until Paranormal Activity sent me on a found footage binge.
As someone who wasn’t caught up in just how big of a deal the Blair Witch Project was at the time of its release, the movie ultimately became something I appreciated for its place in the history of film, but otherwise fell into the “I could take it or leave it” category. That being said, I was ecstatic when I learned that Wingard and Barrett, two incredibly talented and exciting filmmakers, would be getting their hands on this property.
Wingard and Barrett’s Blair Witch, written by the latter and directed by the former, deeply roots itself in the mythology of Burkettsville, fleshing out its setting with backstory and campfire stories that feel real and genuinely creepy. The driving plot of Blair Witch involves Heather Donahue’s brother, James, returning to the site of the events chronicled in the first film to unearth what happened to his sister. It’s an idea that could easily have come across as a measly, tacked on contrivance to justify the film’s existence, but thanks to Wingard’s nimble direction and Barrett’s engaging screenplay, none of it feels forced. The confidently calculated manner in which Blair Witch sets up its story, introduces characters, and dutifully builds its tone is a prime example of masterful filmmaking and makes for one of best first acts the found footage genre has ever seen.
While you’re still digesting that last statement, let me go ahead and say that all three acts of this film are incredible. Blair Witch is an exquisitely tense film that throws together intrigue, sheer horror, trademark Wingard/Barrett humor, and jump scares in a combination that succeeds from beginning to end. One of the things I liked so much about Blair Witch that it refuses, as others before it have, to lazily spew out plot points and half-assed motivations in lieu of story as a time-filler for the eventual carnage. That dedicated approach to storytelling is present for the entire film, and the film as a whole is that much more effective because of it.
Wingard and Barrett are no strangers to the found footage genre, but the lengths to which they go to put their own personal spin on the genre make Blair Witch feel incredibly fresh and exciting. Earpiece and drone cameras make for more creativity and angles available to tell the story. Combined with Barrett’s assured writing, this gives way to some terrifying sequences that don’t necessarily push the boundaries of the genre, but are perfect examples of how effective found footage can be in the right hands. Blair Witch efficiently makes use of its setting, reminding us just how creepy the woods can be. This movie uses the good old creepy abandoned house setting to maximum potential. A brilliantly executed sequence depicting a character getting stuck in a tunnel while being chased is certain to make a claustrophobic out of anyone.
I walked away from The Blair Witch reminded of James Wan’s The Conjuring. Both are familiar stories, but in a pool of uninspired creations, this golden nugget easily rises to the top. These two movies share another interesting commonality in that they both were curiously slapped with an R rating. Much of the horror on display in both movies is heavily psychological rather than gory. It’s just another testament to how well the film works. Despite rushing its third act a tad, Blair Witch remains an incredible horror film from two of the genre’s most talented minds.
Blair Witch is an exquisitely tense film that throws together intrigue, sheer horror, trademark Wingard/Barrett humor, and jump scares in a combination that succeeds from beginning to end. Wingard and Barrett are no strangers to the found footage genre, but the lengths to which they go to put their own personal spin on the genre make Blair Witch feel incredibly fresh and exciting.