BLAIR WITCH – movie review

               I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a slappy for the BLAIR WITCH and all of its associated creations. I am a slappy, like I said. I remember seeing the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT a week before it came out in wide release and it blew me away. I was able to see it before the national hype train got rolling – I had been paying attention to the film for months, following it avidly after its debut at Sundance Film Festival – and I was able to see it with a packed crowd that were dead silent for the entire film. I fell in immediate love with the mythology as it hit a sweet spot for me, capturing my love for horror, storytelling, and folktales. It was a campfire creeper put to film. I am all for blatant monsters, gore, and explanations but this didn’t need it. All of this was made even more intoxicating by the creation of fake documentary television programs to serve as companion pieces to the film. Seeing the film how I did really was absolutely perfect. I saw it again the following week at a chain theater and it was just as captivating but not as intimate of a viewing. I remember going to the film with the girl I was seeing at the time and showing her the doc they had shown on SciFi Channel after we watched the movie and we got into a silly argument over it because she felt like it was a bridge too far to mislead people into thinking the film was real.

I look back and have to laugh because that discussion was a hint at what was to come that summer as people freaked out over whether the film really was true or not, something that seems downright quaint now.

               From the film there were books released which added to the story, to the mythology, and were just as weird and creepy. Then there was a kid’s book series, which I can’t say I messed with, but which is fun to think exist. There was even some computer games which weren’t really good, but hey, that just starts to tell you how pervasive the film became. It was a legitimate and honest phenomenon that electrified that summer and indeed the year. It brought the found footage subgenre into the forefront of horror and birthed dozens upon dozens of ripoffs, homages, and films inspired by the low-fi approach. It was the sort of thing that can’t be planned or programmed but just happens at the right moment and ignites something in people. Just as quickly as it became a fad though it fell to earth with the detractors taking to the internet to profess loudly how much they didn’t just dislike the film but indeed hated it.

And that is fine, heck, there are plenty of films I ‘hate’ without even seeing them.

That is the privilege of being a fan.

               That film led to talk of more though and gave us BLAIR WITCH 2 – Book of Shadows, a film that was ruined by producers that wanted to make it more like what the imitations were doing and less like what the famed documentary director behind the camera wanted to make.  The film was a refreshing departure from the original with an interesting story that played on the fandom, on the obsession, and did a bit of a deconstruction of them. As planned, the film sounds fascinating and there were some genuinely great moments but the intent of the film was changed and elements were added that made it another horror film of that era, stuck crushing on Marilyn Manson and overexplaining things meant to be left nebulous. BWP2 is one of those movies that will forever bother and upset me because of what it COULD have been. There is such an interesting take here, beneath the nonsense add ins, that I still wish we could get a version true to the director’s intent. We WON’T but I can wish that.

The sequel wasn’t the hit the original film was so that pretty much did in the franchise. The people behind the first film had wanted to do a period piece prequel but it never materialized, and the property was left to age and be forgotten.

               What first got my interest piqued with BLAIR WITCH was how it arrived in the marketplace, showing secretly under a false name – they went to far as to make a fake poster for it – and then surprising people when it turned out to be an unannounced Blair Witch sequel made by two filmmakers who were up and coming talents in the genre. To say I was excited is to really bury the lead here. I was STOKED! So, stoked.

 But like, see it on opening weekend stoked.

               BLAIR WITCH is similar in style to the original film though while leaning into the new tech of today. The story follows the brother of Heather from the original film as he tries desperately to discover what happened to his sister. It turns out that some footage was found in the woods that appear to show Heather looking a wreck as she tries to hide from someone or something in what seems to be Rustin Parr’s house. He decides to go into the woods to hunt for her and a friend uses this opportunity to film everything with better and higher tech than Heather had used in the initial film with the hope of chronicling a grand adventure. To guide them into the forest and towards the area where Heather, Mike and Joooooooooosh disappeared the group enlists the help of two locals who are steeped in the lore. What they find when the get out into the woods though is that the two, they have brought to show them the way may not be telling them the whole truth of why they wanted to go out there and they also find that the stories of what lives out in the woods may be very real indeed.

The film does away with the slow burn tension that made the original so captivating (and aggravating for some) in order to offer a more intense and action-packed film. It works, setting the film apart from the first and giving us more to fear and look for in the thick woods. The new tech adds a lot of fun moments to the film and serves to take away the ‘why are they still filming’ aspect that put so many off with the first. The mythology is deepened and expanded, and we are finally given a fleeting glimpse of something from the woods, though what it is is still up to debate.

The movie is scary.            

Super duper scary.

What I love about the film is that they ‘get’ what made the first so memorable – they took the terror of the woods and amplified it while adding something of their own to it. They made a movie that took everything from the first and amped it up and gave us terrors to see when we close our eyes, not just sounds that went bump in the night.

The movie ain’t perfect though.

Because there are so many more characters there is more dialogue and it’s not all good.

The film also amps up the shaky cam antics of the first and while there aren’t a lot of moments used it still gets aggravating.

The biggest sin is perhaps that it is TOO much like the first film. It doesn’t ape it but it doesn’t ‘leave the woods’, if you will. It tells a similar story in a similar way and they didn’t really dare to do more, tell more, or go somewhere new. There are also a lot more questions here that go unanswered, much to my frustration.

That, for me, is the film’s biggest sin.

The sin of cleaving too closely to the original.

I love it, just the same, but it makes me wish there was one last film to wrap this story up. Something that takes the threads we have seen and pulls them out fully and ties them into a bow that says something. I love that these are just about fear and folklore, but I also wish that, after, well, really, three films they said something more or gave us a little more than they do.

The frustration of fandom.

Having just re-watched the film though the movie still stands up and I don’t get the angst or hate people have for it. I get it if you don’t dig it but MAN do some people just hate it. I don’t like it as much as the original BWP, sure, but I love it just the same and it fuels the imagination and makes my mind wander deeper into those woods looking for answers and hoping for even more of that elusive old witch.

4 out of 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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