Blair Witch, review: ‘A horror sequel that justifies its existence'

There are scares to be had in Adam Wingard’s ‘secret’ sequel to 1999’s ‘The Blair Witch Project’

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Blair Witch (15)

Dir: Adam Wingard, 89 mins, starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

Much like Blair Witch’s cursed forest, the horror sequel is dangerous territory.

In 2002, follow-up Book of Shadows ditched the formula that marked out Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's pioneering predecessor The Blair Witch Project (1999) as a modern horror classic.

Considering its memory induces as much fear as the latter’s unforgettably disturbing final shot, it seemed the supernatural force had been forever left to languish alone in those woods.

Step forward Adam Wingard, a filmmaker who, with just three films to his name – including intense slasher You’re Next and psychological thriller The Guest – has shown he’s unafraid to add his own spin to an increasingly stale genre. Having initially announced his next film as ‘shit-your-pants’ horror The Woods (his words), the American filmmaker later took it to Comic-Con repackaged as an unexpected Blair Witch sequel. Cue a stunned audience, blindsided journalists and the internet in meltdown.

Blair Witch - Extended Trailer

The plot is largely the same, a twist via film student James (James Allen McCune) respectfully providing a direct link to the original: his sister is The Blair Witch Project’s blue hat-wearing Heather who was last seen screaming her way around an abandoned shack.

There are differences, of course; the past 17 years’ advancement of technology has revitalised the found footage formula. Handheld cameras, be gone; instead, our characters – propelled onwards by a YouTube video James believes shows his living sister – haul in ear cams and a drone which successfully eliminates the usual question: when the horror’s amped up, why do they keep on filming?

Time is taken to ensure these characters are more than just horror fodder. Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry impress most as the local Burkittsville residents who appear to know more about the Blair Witch than they let on. Their calm approach to the whole affair adds an air of creepiness which, for the film’s opening half at least, takes the place of out-and-out scares which are glaringly conspicuous by their absence. 

Make no mistake – they arrive. Wingard, having a ball as the puppeteer of terror, stashes them up and when he deals them out, he does so in such horrific succession you’ll struggle to simultaneously look at the screen and avert your gaze.

What made the original so terrifying, however, was its refusal to explain its scares. Blair Witch’s approach is different; these characters learn more throughout the running time than Heather, Joshua or Michael ever did. As the film enters its climactic 20 minutes, the prevailing feeling is that the magician has revealed his tricks and what should consequently be nightmarish feels a tad rote. 

 

Fortunately, Wingard’s inclusion of subgenres (a dash of Cronenberg body horror; a smattering of sci-fi) steers the film in an unexpectedly bold new direction, justifying its existence. “Are you sure about this?”, one character asks as daylight fades and they cross the point of what could well be no return. Horror fans entering the cinema with trepidation may ask themselves the same question but, unlike the unhappy campers in this admirable sequel, it’s recommended you go right ahead.

Comments