The Blair Witch ‘franchise’ has thus far followed a familiar pattern; a genuinely ground-breaking original, a predictably dire sequel – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – in which every single positive aspect of the original was extracted and discarded, and now this, the third instalment: Blair Witch.
It’s a film that, to a certain extent at least, seeks to get ‘back to basics,’ attempting to recapture the essence of what it was that made the first film such a refreshingly original horror, way back in 1999.
The whereabouts of the original bunch of young folk that disappeared, having foolishly set foot into the woods in search of the Blair Witch, has by all accounts mystified many for years. None more so than James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of one of those that originally vanished, Heather, whom he’s convinced he spots in some creepy video that’s been uploaded onto the internet. This footage was apparently discovered, discarded in those infamous woods, by Lane (Wes Robinson), a slightly odd character who lives with his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry).
Racked by curiosity and still harbouring hopes of finding Heather alive, James, together with his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), and a couple of their friends, tracks down Lane, who, on the proviso that both he and Talia may tag along for the adventure, agrees to escort James and his group into the woods and show them exactly where it was that he discovered that abandoned video tape.
Though dubious of whether they can trust Lane and Talia, they all reluctantly agree to the proposition, and into the woods they go…
First and foremost, it should be said that Blair Witch, on the surface at least, is a very routine horror run-out. A few classic horror ‘devices’ are thrown about which serve to ramp up the fear factor sufficiently, and to provide a number of irritating obstacles which hamper the group’s best laid plans and actions. We’ve certainly been there and seen its kind before.
Based upon such a luke-warm summary alone, Blair Witch won’t get too many pulses racing, but, perhaps unwittingly even, it’s a film that has an unusual ace up its sleeve – technology.
Admittedly, this could also be a point of irritation to many, as our intrepid explorers – they of ‘the generation that can’t leave their fekkin’ gadgets alone for even a minute’ – spend many a scene either engrossed in an assortment of illuminated screens or fiddling about with operating buttons and switches, but it’s in the use of this plethora of mobile phones, GPS systems, walkie-talkies, digital video cameras, miniature bluetooth cameras clipped to ears, and even a small flying drone device, that director Adam Wingard ensures that maximum video coverage of the events that unfold, is attained – remember, this is a film compiled from nothing but the group’s own personal footage.
Visual footage is one thing, but the act of switching on and off, combined with the cutting in and out of reception of the aforementioned gadgets, adds considerable jarring digital distortion and static noise into the mix. These decibel-heavy sudden bursts of grating sound are used repeatedly – almost to the point of overkill – but to often startling, dramatic effect by Wingard.
Add to these a whole array of thuds, rumbles, creaks, shrieks and screams that emanate, out of sight, from within the forest, and given the general low visibility of the night, Wingard’s sonic assault on our senses really does prove key here to achieving a truly disturbing experience, to say the least.
As the film develops and the tension levels are augmented, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and confusion amongst the group. Combined with the gathering realisation that Lane and Talia perhaps cannot be trusted after all, and not to mention the bizarre sense of both time and place rapidly becoming warped and displaced, Blair Witch takes us into a truly messed-up, rather hexed dimension, beyond that which we’ve experienced in either of the previous outings.
It’s well-paced and increasingly alarming, and in fact it takes Blair Witch right until the closing act before it arguably finally falls over its own broomstick.
Ramping up the energy and the claustrophobic levels of confusion to almost demented levels by this point, Wingard conjures up an increasingly disorientating experience for the viewer. Intermittent flashes from an excessive lightning storm offer brief glimpses of both the members of the group – who by this point have disappeared and are exhibiting peculiar behaviour in varying states of distress – and, interestingly, glimpses of the Blair Witch herself.
Yes, all this chaos does indeed achieve moments that are genuinely disturbing, but there’s a sense that ultimately the whole thing begins to ‘get away’ from Wingard by this point in this crazy melee of loud noise and visual carnage, like some sort of desperate attempt to spin more and more plates over a greater and greater distance.
The need or desire to throw more and more – both visually and sonically – at the screen, is certainly one approach to the heightening of terror levels, but as ever, one senses that less would have been more.
If anything it takes the sheen off a film which, whilst no game-changer, is up to that point, as good a horror sequel as you could realistically hope to expect.
In its favour though, Blair Witch refuses to offer any sense of resolution, leaving many an unanswered question in its wake – primed, no doubt, for a further instalment of this most ‘marmite’ of franchises.
Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen…
It is unsurprisingly not quite up to the standards of the original. It has a tendency to get just a little clunky in places, but considering the whole Blair Witch phenomenon is now thoroughly well-trodden territory, it was always going to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.
Let it be said though, Blair Witch makes an admirably good fist of things in its bold attempt to recapture some of the original film’s magic. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t successfully manage to get back on-side many of the franchise’s original fan base, whilst simultaneously convincing a whole new generation of its considerable worth as a genuinely frightening horror concept; and that, ladies and gentlemen, comes as both a pleasant surprise, and should be considered a thoroughly laudable achievement.