Blair Witch: Second Take of Terror

(Hello there, my dear readers. I apologize that it has been so long since my last post. I have found that it can actually be quite challenging to keep up new content for five days a week and, unfortunately, I fell out of writing. I will return to write more, though this time I will go with a more manageable one post a week. This should help serve as a more reasonable pace and help me to stick to writing this blog. Again, I apologize to my readers for having fallen off the wagon of writing.)

Back in 1999, a horror film was released that took the world by storm: The Blair Witch Project. Following a group of film students who fall prey to the supernatural terror of the Blair Witch when shooting a documentary about the legendary spirit, the movie quickly became a hit and grabbed audiences. Its “found footage” style was realized in a way that achieved a naturalistic feel, further aided by a campaign that took advantage of the early years of the internet to foster a mystique that it could have been true. This one-two punch of naturalistic approach and effective internet marketing caused the film to hit hard, but attempts to keep that hype going were hampered by a weak sequel known as Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Thus, The Blair Witch Project faded into the wings but its influence would continue to be felt. These days, “found footage” horror films are a common occurrence with varying degrees of quality. Now, filmmaker Adam Wingard is revisiting that influential film with Blair Witch, a direct sequel that offers some neat tricks while nicely expanding and exploring on the first film.

Ever since his sister Heather disappeared after going to shoot a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch, James Donahue has been haunted by the lack of closure and information on exactly what happened. He has been searching for many scrap, any clue that might finally let him know the truth. One day, he receives a clip from someone claiming to have found some lost camera tapes that were located in the area where Heather had disappeared. James decides to go and take up the offer, excited about the possibility of gaining some new insight that might have been missed. He is joined for the trip by his friends, Peter and Ashley, and a film student named Lisa Arlington, who is shooting a documentary about those affected by a lack of closure and sees James’ journey as great material for her documentary. They head out to the woods near Burkittsville, bringing along an assortment of modern cameras and two locals who had found the lost tapes. However, as they journey into the woods and set out to find the truth, they may find more than they bargained for as weird events begin to plague the trip.

This film serves as a good sequel that can stand well on its own. Essentially, the film is in some ways sort of a remake, in that it takes a similar “found footage” approach to the first film and also uses familiar beats and moments. However, it is not a simple rehash. It takes the familiar and creates new twists off of it, along with bringing its own batch of tricks to chill viewers. The respect for the first film is clear, but it is willing to build upon it and create its own path. The structure of the film also works well as it builds towards its terrifying conclusion with a slow burner path. When the horror begins to play, they play close and familiar to the first movie, allowing audiences to become used to what they remember. As it goes, however, it begins to twist and change the familiar. Eventually, it goes firmly into new territory, with a variety of scares that lead to a confrontation in a building of impossible space. In short, this movie is akin to if The Blair Witch Project had the budget and capability for a more active threat in comparison to the original film’s more subtle threat. It is an effective approach, but one that can be divisive.

Though most may compare this to The Blair Witch Project and want something innovative like that film was, the fact of the matter is that they cannot equal the impact of that movie in the same way. The Blair Witch Project was innovative in its approach, one that can’t really be done again. For one, that movie was shot in a “found footage” style with a largely improvisational method from its actors. The style lends it a naturalistic feel. Now, “found footage” is a common style in horror films. Plenty of horror movies have taken to the “found footage” approach to give these movies a kind of personal connection. Along with that, The Blair Witch Project was released at a time when the internet was still pretty new. The modernity of the internet was taken advantage of by the time for that film, launching a campaign that created a whole mystery at the time of whether it was real or just a movie. Now, most people have become savvy with the internet and marking campaigns with the internet are a common thing. These two components, what had once been novelties, are now a dime a dozen. As such, Blair Witch simply cannot compare to the influential strike of that first film and there is nothing wrong with that. Expecting a film to instantly be as influential as a previous one in a series can be a dire mistake. Instead, it should be able to be viewed and appreciated on its own merits, instead of throwing down extreme expectations and panning it because it did not meet those expectations.

Though it may tread in a familiar path, Blair Witch is an effective return to beloved territory. It takes familiar beats from The Blair Witch Project and strengthens them, while ramping up the terror with scares of its own.

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