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Now Playing: “Blair Witch” sequel shocks the franchise back to life

Pierce Turner

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"Blair Witch" is the rare horror sequel that maintains the tone and quality of the original while also bringing new scares. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

“Blair Witch” is the rare horror sequel that maintains the tone and quality of the original while also bringing new scares. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Watching most found footage movies is like going to an exciting house party: you’ll probably get dizzy, nauseous, and in the morning you’ll wonder why you went at all and what that strange smell is coming from your shoes.

The term “found footage” was coined by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, which became a horror and viral marketing icon alike. Seventeen years later, a proper sequel is out, and if the original invented the genre, then Blair Witch has just about perfected it.

 

 

Picking up 20 years after The Blair Witch Project (ignoring the abysmal Blair Witch 2), we find ourselves with James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of Heather, one of the three protagonists from the original that has been missing since the events of the first film. Determined to find her— or at least evidence of what happened to her— James recruits his tech-savvy friends and their camera equipment to investigate the cursed woods.

Upon arriving at the forest, the film takes its time building the audience’s anticipation, creating a sense of dread with spooky sounds and creepy stick figure omens. Blair Witch restrains itself from having anything pop up and say “boogity woogity woo” too much, though not nearly as much as its predecessor.

The original film found success — as well as criticism — in having nothing all that scary happen until the very end of the movie, and even then you’re never actually introduced to any physical being. Director Adam Wingard probably knew he couldn’t get away with not showing anything again. Things start out by just going bump in the night (the sound design is intense), but they quickly escalate into full-on hysteria as the world around our heroes literally starts falling apart, and things do indeed go “boogity woogity woo.”

At this point, the film gets genuinely terrifying — certainly more so than the original — and the panic expressed by the characters starts leaking from the screen and into your heart. It wasn’t until I stood up to leave the theater that I noticed an impression in my bottom shaped like the edge of my seat. Fans of the original will recognize some of the titular witch’s scary tactics, but expect to see some new ones, including a character’s brutal and abrupt death from a classic witchcraft tool.

The actual found footage aspect of the film still works very well because of the modern technology allowing it to actually make sense. Almost every character is not only holding a high-end video camera, but is equipped with a head-mounted camera that also functions as a GPS tracking device. It makes for tense head-turning shots and really gives a reason for these people to still be filming the mess around them while trying to not die.

There are quick moments where cameras are turning and it looks like there’s something lurking in the background. However, you’re not really sure if it’s actually there. These moments add even more tension when waiting for the next horrible thing to happen to the characters. There’s a camera-equipped drone, but it’s never really used in any effective way. The whole time I was expecting to see something horrible from the bird’s eye view of the drone but it never happened. Definitely a missed opportunity.

The unapologetically horrifying finale mirrors that of the original while bringing some new twists and ideas that make the forest an even less appealing place to vacation. It adds surprises to the lore that clears up a little of the mystery behind the original, but also raises new questions of its own. Without giving too much away, I definitely recommend watching the original again before going to see Blair Witch.

Blair Witch is a surprisingly good and genuinely terrifying film that won’t only meet the expectations of returning fans, but surpass them with chilling sound design, frightening imagery and a hardcore climax that barely gives you time to catch your breath. It’s sort of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the Blair Witch franchise; it tells basically the same story as the original while also adding contemporary twists that give it a unique personality of its own. Both franchises even have awful sequels/prequels that fans desperately try to forget, but at least Blair’s isn’t canon.

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Now Playing: “Blair Witch” sequel shocks the franchise back to life