Sixteen years later, Lionsgate has returned for another bite at the apple. And while Blair Witch (made for a relatively frugal $5 million) is not as complete a disaster as Book of Shadows, it is by no reasonable estimate a success.
The movie’s central problem is that apart from a few conspicuous flourishes—more on these in a moment—it is almost slavishly faithful to the original. Four friends decide to trek into the thickly forested Black Hills of Maryland in search of the legendary Blair Witch. This time around, one member of the group (James Allen McCune) is the younger brother of the young woman who disappeared in the original film; another (Callie Hernandez) is the budding documentarian; and two more (Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid) are essentially friends along for the ride. The quartet is soon joined by another pair of young locals (Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry) who claim to have discovered footage of the witch, making for an unwieldy half-dozen campers in all.
The group heads out into the woods, where—well, if you’ve seen the original, you have a pretty good idea of what happens. Daytime brings fatigue and confusion about their location; nighttime brings ominous noises, sudden frights, the appearance of stone cairns and wooden stick figures, and ultimately the disappearance of companions. As noted, the protagonists spend a great deal of time running through the woods startling one another with flashlights. And it all concludes, as we know it must, in a creepy, dilapidated house hidden in the belly of the forest. Indeed, Blair Witch follows the original’s beats so precisely that at times it seems that the film is more eager to elicit memories of its predecessor than to stand on its own at all.
Worse, on almost every occasion that the movie deviates from its source material it does so to its detriment. Whereas the three paranormal explorers of the original were just the right number, six are far too many: None of the characters come to life as individuals, and viewers are thus only loosely invested in their survival. Likewise, The Blair Witch Project devoted considerable time to buildup (the interviews with locals, the meeting with the fishermen, the sharing of ancient and frightful lore) and limited the finale at the House in the Woods to a few brief minutes. Blair Witch inverts this emphasis—and defies the horror maxim that what you don’t see is almost always scarier than what you do—by sending its protagonists into the woods almost immediately and then spending far too much time at the witch’s
gingerbread house crumbling abode.
Given the revolutionary leaps in personal tech that have taken place in the last decade and a half, Blair Witch clearly needed to update its campers’ equipment. But the movie does so promiscuously, with high-end walkie-talkies, earpiece video recorders, cameras that can be set in trees, and—most absurdly, given the density of the forest—a flying drone. One result of this video-overkill is that everyone is constantly being filmed from multiple vantage points, leading to frequent cuts that seriously undermine the entire “found-footage” conceit.