Seventeen years ago, The Blair Witch Project revolutionised horror cinema, popularising the found footage genre and sparking dozens of imitators, from REC to Paranormal Activity.
That style of filmmaking is now so ubiquitous that many people don’t get the Blair Witch hype. It’s been done a million times since, so it’s no longer that scary.
The problem, then, is how do you make such a sequel in 2016 that’s scary, relevant, and fresh after two decades of dozens of films ripping off its predecessor? Unfortunately, Adam Wingard’s film fails to answer this.
Blair Witch follows James, younger brother of the original’s Heather, who has grown up with the knowledge of her disappearance in the woods and the footage that remained (i.e. the contents of the original film).
Apparently neither he nor his friends watched any of that footage, because they think it’s a good idea to go back in the woods – armed with more cameras – to try and search for the house that Heather and friends ended up in at the iconic ending of the original.
There are some modern updates, as they bring digital cameras, smartphones (though reception quickly vanishes) and a drone; but once they end up back in the woods it is essentially a rehash of the first film, with a larger cast (six instead of three) of less interesting characters. As it progresses it’s clear that there is going to be no slow-burning tension, no building sense of terror and paranoia, no unsettling evocation of primal fears.
Instead, we get a few lame jump scares here and there, cheap gore, and it even lacks all of the atmosphere and suspense that made it good. Meanwhile, the found footage style is clumsily executed – there are too many characters wielding cameras about, and they constantly film things that they have no logical reason to be filming.
Ultimately, Blair Witch is a sequel has nothing to add to this well-worn genre. And what’s sad is that a classic horror movie will always have this rubbish attached to its legacy.