Blair Witch is a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project (it blessedly ignores Blair Witch 2) that sees James, the brother of Heather in the original movie, return to the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland in an effort to find out how his sister disappeared and if there’s any possibility that she’s still alive. James takes along Lisa (Callie Hernandez) to document the project and turn it into a documentary, as well as his best friend, Peter (Brandon Scott), and his girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid). They also stop and pick up two locals, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), online conspiracy theorist who found a tape in the Burkittsville Woods that seems to contain a brief image of Heather from The Blair Witch Project house that investigators never managed to find during their extensive search for Heather and her friends.
The premise is not dissimilar to the original The Blair Witch Project, only this time around, technology has improved enough that someone doesn’t have to carry around a large video camera the entire time. They have a camera drone, iPhone cameras, and small cameras that attach to their ears, which makes for a more fluid document.
The results are not dissimilar, either: During their first night in camp, spooky things start happening. James and company decide to leave, but even with the aid of GPS devices, their attempts to escape the Burkittsville Woods are futile. Mysterious rock formations and stick things appear. Those within the camp turn against each other. They fight and yell. There’s lots of screaming. People disappear. People die.
Honestly, the first two acts are more akin to a remake than a sequel, and like the original The Blair Witch Project, the first two acts are difficult to sit through. It’s boring, and worse — because we know about the events of the first movie — everything that happens feels all too inevitable.
However, the louder, faster, scarier third act is a significant improvement upon the original. There are a few wrinkles. The mythology expands. We learn more about the Blair Witch, although much of what we do learn seems specifically designed for sequels. It is, nevertheless, effective: We get glimpses of what we never saw in the original, but not enough to take away the mystery or the helplessness of it all.
Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, the writer and director behind the brilliant horror flick You’re Next, had to keep production of Blair Witch a secret for over three years. In fact, it was originally promoted — with a trailer, no less — as a movie called The Woods, and only in recent months was it revealed to be a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It certainly lent some excitement and surprise to the marketing of the film, but no amount of marketing mojo could reproduce the novelty of the original, the first major found footage horror film. That gimmick has since been played out in numerous horror films and franchises, and sadly, Blair Witch doesn’t bring anything new to the concept.
Nevertheless, it does manage to be an effective horror film, at least in the third act, by expanding upon the original mythology and featuring a few legitimately creepy sequences. Wingard and Barrett have injected a level of creativity that the first movie never possessed, not only in the Blair Witch herself, but in the creative use of cameras.
It doesn’t make it a great movie or even a particularly good one — and Wingard and Barrett would be much better suited to an idea of their own making — but Blair Witch is a serviceable horror movie for those who have already seen the infinitely superior Don’t Breathe and need a fright fix. However, Blair Witch is not a movie that’s likely to spawn a hundred copycats like the original. I’m skeptical even of its ability to relaunch a franchise that no one really asked for in the first place.