Valorie Curry in Blair Witch (Photo: Lionsgate)
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Adam Wingard
STARS James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez
To quote B.B. King, “The thrill is gone.”
When The Blair Witch Project debuted in 1999, it created quite a sensation on a number of fronts. It brilliantly used the Internet to promote itself in unique ways. It exposed general audiences to the “found footage” concept. It effectively positioned itself as a true story, so much so that many viewers didn’t realize it was fiction until they actually went to see the film. And, on a minuscule budget of $60,000 (in the same summer of the $170 million dud Wild Wild West, no less), it earned a sizable $140 million stateside and an additional $110 million internationally. As for the picture’s effectiveness, while it didn’t live up to the usual nonsensical hype of being the scariest movie ever made, it was nevertheless a clever and creepy watch.
The 2000 release Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (aka The Sequel That Time Forgot) wasn’t enjoyed by anyone, so here we are with a new release that’s being promoted as a direct sequel to the original. Blair Witch opens with James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of The Blair Witch Project protagonist Heather, discovering YouTube footage which he believes shows his sister in the cabin in the woods where she disappeared 15 years earlier. Determined to locate her, he and his friends — filmmaker Lisa (Callie Hernandez), best bud Peter (Brandon Scott), and Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) — head to the area to meet Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the locals who discovered the footage buried in the woods. The sextet are soon hoofing it through the thick forest, but it doesn’t take long for the omniscient evil presence to begin toying with them before attempting to take them out.
As expected, Blair Witch is also presented in the “found footage” format, which was fresh back in ’99 but by now has grown exceedingly stale with its overuse in cinema. In fact, “stale” pretty much describes every aspect of this film, which basically follows the same patterns as its predecessor without adding much new to the equation. The tension between the four outsiders and their backwoods hosts is milked for some effective drama (the reaction of the black Peter to the Confederate flag hanging in Lane’s living room is perfectly played), but the trajectory of Lane’s character — pawn, puppet master or putz? — proves to be confusing and ultimately leads to more questions than answers. There’s next to no suspense in the film, although director Adam Wingard (who, incidentally, was all of 16 when the 1999 film debuted) loves to throw in tiresome attempts at cheap scares by having a person suddenly APPEAR OUT OF NOWHERE! and get right in the face of somebody else (hasn’t anyone in scare flicks ever heard of personal space?). As for the finale, it’s largely a repeat of the climax from the first picture, conclusively demonstrating that Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett aren’t particularly interested in expanding the myth as much as regurgitating it.
To quote James at one point in the picture, “Fuck this.”