Blair Witch Review (2016): I’m a Witch, I’m a Witch Oh, the Witch is Back

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Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett want to party like it’s 1999 but as we were all taught, parties weren’t meant to last. Their sorta-sequel, sorta-reboot Blair Witch is a dismal retread of the 1999 surprise hit that created a now-tired sub-genre. They decided to replicate the original idea and we are all left scratching our heads and wondering why. Wingard and Barrett seem to think, why the hell not?

The Blair Witch Project was made on a $60,000 budget and made just under $250 million worldwide, creating a phenomenon by rubbing two nickels together. The latest, made for $5 million, doesn’t do much to advance the concept technically or narratively, except giving the characters a drone and a few digital cameras.

Set 20 years after the events of the original, James (James Allen McCune) discovers a video that could have belonged to his sister Heather, who disappeared in the woods while looking for the Blair Witch. Desperate to know if she’s alive – again, 20 years later – he gathers a group of friends (Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott) to go spend a night in the woods and see if she’s out there.

Outlandish premise aside, Blair Witch has nothing to offer and commits a movie cardinal sin: What is the justification of this film’s existence? Who is it for and why is it here? It’s a movie that leans heavily on nostalgia for the first, which gained a strong fan base at the time of its release and subsequent years after, and doesn’t attempt to do anything new or exciting. The friends spend the night in the woods with a pair of sketchy people (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), who found the original video footage. Things creak and crack throughout the night, trust is challenged and somehow absolutely no tension is created.

I’m mostly saddened by the attempted cash-in (as of Sunday night the film opened to only $9.6 million) nature of Blair Witch. It’s a regressive step in Wingard and Barrett’s respective careers, who gave us the fun horror film You’re Next and the slick, retro, bloody action-thriller The Guest, which I absolutely adore (if you haven’t seen The Guest, it’s available on Netflix – stay home and watch that instead of Blair Witch.) These are guys, who in such a short period of time, have become masters of creating palpable tension and atmosphere and now they’ve succumbed to the lazy found footage conceit.

While I appreciate the relevance of The Blair Witch project, I was never a fan of the original, which was a long journey to an inevitable ending. It was all concept and no execution. Maybe that put me at a grave disadvantage going into Blair Witch, because it’s so heavily steeped in the lore of the first. Either way, we didn’t need to see it again.

2 out of 10

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