Seeing The Blair Witch Project for the first time is one of the most vivid and terrifying film experiences I can remember having. I was no older than twelve when I saw the film, way too young to be watching it, but fascinated by what I had heard about it. I managed to somehow rent it from my local cornershop in spite of my young age, and took it home to my Nan’s house where I had been staying at the time. She had no idea what I was planning to watch, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, and the film ended up scaring me senseless, all the more so due to the fact that my Nan’s home, the place I would be staying the night, was practically sat on the edge of the local forest.
That experience has stuck with me ever since, to the point where I only recently revisited the film for the first time in years. And whilst it was nowhere near as frightening as my twelve-year-old-self remembered, I was surprised at just how effectively creepy and unsettling The Blair Witch Project remains to this day. I was taken aback at just how little really happens in the film, deliberately so, which only heightens your sense of the uncanny – I can’t say I’m surprised that hundreds of people thought the film was actually real, off of the back of what was an incredible marketing campaign.
Now, nearly two decades after the original phenomenon was released and kick started a whole new genre of horror films, a new Blair Witch has surfaced as if from nowhere, brought to us this time from the director of The Guest and You’re Next, Adam Wingard. A proven talent behind the camera, Wingard manages to make a sequel/remake which works purely on a mechanical level; one which provides enough jump scares to do the job at the then and there, but which lacks the long-lasting eeriness of the original.
The concept of Blair Witch follows the same template as the 1999 version, following a group of young people as they head into the woods to make a documentary. Things are a little more personal this time around, however, as one of the said young people is the brother to one of the characters from the first film. It’s a connection which ultimately does the story no favours, with Wingard developing a whole mythology around the Blair Witch, which feels like it’s only there to serve the countless sequels that are no doubt in the works somewhere.
Considering ‘Project’ worked well due to its simplicity, events are far more convoluted this time (needlessly so) with some kind of time travel element that’s there but never fully elaborated on. All of this is bad enough, but when Wingard goes as far as to actually reveal the titular Witch, it’s as if he’s missed the whole point of the original film completely: the fact that what we can’t see is always going to be a million more times terrifying than something we can see.
There are positives in the well-constructed frights – a claustrophobic sequence set in an underground tunnel is like watching your very worst nightmares come to life – and the finale is undeniably entertaining. It’s just a shame that whilst it manages to make you jump, it lacks the unnerving spirit of the original. Perhaps the biggest piece of supporting evidence in this case, would be the fact that I slept like a baby after seeing it.
The Blair Witch Project will always be a little piece of film history, but this sequel feels purely manafactured by comparison. It may be a lot of fun at the time, but it is otherwise completely forgettable and fades into the background with all the other watered down, modern day found footage films of its kind.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com