by CJ Streetman
Seventeen years after the cult classic Blair Witch Project¸ and some number of years after the other one that we all try to forget even happened, Blair Witch picks up the story as a direct sequel to the movie that birthed a genre. Blair Witch follows James Donahue, brother to the original movie’s Heather Donahue, as he tries to uncover what happened to his sister in the Black Hills Forest of Maryland. What follows feels like two completely different movies: one that is always several steps away from success, and another that almost makes you glad you trudged through the first.
There is some masterful tension building throughout the first half of the film that is ruined by… cheap tactics that ultimately make the first half of this movie feel fairly pointless.
A chore of an introduction
What begins with a fairly engaging plot, believable motive and, perhaps most miraculously, non-migraine-inducing found footage, quickly devolves into a series of short cuts, loud noises, and a complete lack of tension.
It’s in this first act that it becomes clear that the makers of this movie felt the need to make some serious concessions to modern found-footage film. There is some masterful tension building throughout the first half of the film that is ruined by a fake jump scare such as someone coming into frame with a loud noise accompanying them or a camera malfunction. All cheap tactics that ultimately make the first half of this movie feel fairly pointless.
Nope, I’m out of here
The one thing that the first half of the movie has seriously in its favor is the believability of the characters. Each of the characters feel like fairly sensible people who react appropriately to the increasingly messed up situations they find themselves in.
Wake up in the morning to find that a dozen occult-looking dolls are hanging over their tents?
Can’t find their friend who has been separated from the group in the middle of the night?
They wait till morning to search.
This is one of the major successes of the film; the fact that these characters generally avoid making stupid decisions drives home exactly how screwed they are as the night gets worse and worse. As the film goes on their decisions become less and less logical, but the decisions in question are made after extended periods of fear and exhaustion.
How is this even the same movie?
It’s in the second half that everything really comes together, and some very clear instances of impressive directorial restraint appear. Jump scares stop being fake outs and are even accompanied by less ridiculously loud noises. A scene many will recognize from the trailers shows a character crawling through tunnels is simply brilliant, playing on fears and expectations almost masterfully.
Ultimately, what really brings the finale of Blair Witch to the next level is that it clearly doesn’t view its audience as stupid in the same way that movies like Paranormal Activity do. The latter feels the need to shove every little fact down the viewers’ throats, whereas Blair Witch proves that trusting the audience can pay off immensely. The answers that the characters spend the whole movie searching for are there, waiting for viewers to notice the clues and piece together the larger puzzle.
Spoiler-free tip: pay very close attention to landmarks that are mentioned as important.
While the final moments leave a lot to be desired, the second half of Blair Witch is a genuinely good horror movie. It takes time to build tension, consistently raises the stakes and toys with the viewer’s expectations. It’s just unfortunate that we had to watch the first half as well.
Overall, Blair Witch is a mostly fun movie that will likely be forgotten in a matter of weeks.
-Ruins that tension with jump scares
+Doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid
-The first half is just lazy