Back in 1999 The Blair Witch Project made quite a lot of noise, rumours circulated that the film was real and the actors actually died whilst making the film. Even I vaguely remember hearing about a ‘real’ horror film despite being only 8 or 9 years old at the time. Obviously, it wasn’t real and film’s success was perhaps due to the masterpiece of marketing (the infancy of the internet helped the film become a massive hit) even if the film went on to influence horror for the greater part of the following decade.
The second sequel to the Blair Witch Project (there was a sequel in 2000 which is pretty much ignored) is yet another excellent piece of marketing as the film was billed as simply The Woods with no connection to The Blair Witch franchise. It was only a few months ago that the film was announced as a Blair Witch sequel and it would be set twenty or so years after the original where James Donahue (James Allen McCune) is still haunted by the circumstances of his missing sister. After catching what he thinks is sight of her in video footage recovered from the woods of his sister’s disappearance, he sets out to find out what happened to her with a small camera crew in tow.
Adam Wingard is one of the most popular up and coming names in the genre, films like The Guest and You’re Next show him as a genre filmmaker. His potential and already well established filmmaking pedigree is why The Blair Witch is kind of disappointing yet still a serviceable horror film. There’s plenty that’s impressive about the film (the last twenty minutes are as intense as any conclusion this year) but the film is so overpopulated with job scares and false scares that it's very disappointing that a director of Wingard’s class would resort to such cheap tactics. The film tries to make light of this by having various characters joke about it (‘Why do people keep doing that?’ when referring to people grabbing others, unexpectedly, on the shoulder) but it doesn’t stop the overuse of these tactics being incredibly cheap and unimaginative.
As I said, Adam Wingard is a good filmmaker and even when he’s not at his best he’s still making pretty decent horror films. The woods, where the film is set, have a massive sense of foreboding, and the slow opening does a great job at building the tension and making the audience fear what is about to come when night descends. The woods and the witch’s ability to seemingly bend time to her will is masterfully done and trying to work out how long James and his friends have been in the words is an unnerving thought. The Witch’s time warping abilities adds more to her fear factor than any physical manifestation ever could, her frightening ability to toy and play with your mind adds so much to her terrifying mythology.
Wingard’s film is similar to the original film, but lacks the subtly (arguably showing more than it should) but still retains much of the original’s intensity. The performances are fine (the cast are certainly more professional than the last but not necessarily better) but a director with the clear class of Wingard the overuse of jump scares (and more annoyingly false scares) is highly disappointing. Still, the film is a thrill ride and a worthy Blair Witch sequel.