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Review: ‘Blair Witch’ rips off the original film but doesn’t improve upon it

2016-09-23-blair-witch-movie-posterBy MARK VIOLA

“The Blair Witch Project” has been parodied and blatantly ripped off so many times over the past 17 years, it’s hard to remember sometimes just how effective it was at being scary. Much of this had to do with the fact that you don’t see much of anything during the course of the film and it’s ultimately the fear of the unknown that is most unnerving. To see more of my thoughts on that film, watch my video review here: goo.gl/IJHcGe.

Unfortunately, “Blair Witch,” the new sequel, follows the same story beats of the original, and while they were once again able to find solid actors to play the parts of scared people lost in the woods, the script is never able to focus its horror into the same level of tension and dread that we felt back in
1999.

Now if you were setting out to make a sequel to “The Blair Witch Project,” and “Blair Witch” is actually the studio’s second attempt at one, the most obvious avenue to take would be to send another group of young 20-somethings out in the same woods with cameras and have creepy stuff happen to them.

And “Blair Witch” drives straight down that lane by having another group of young 20-somethings out in the same woods with cameras and having creepy stuff happen to them. This time the group is led by James (James Allen McCune, “The Walking Dead”), the younger brother of Heather from the original film. When new footage is found in the same woods his sister disappeared in, he convinces three of his friends to join him on a camping trip to finally find answers. One of those friends, Lisa (Callie Hernandez, “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”), is a film student and decides to film the expedition as a documentary for her class.

And if that sounds almost identical to the original’s premise, it’s because it is. In fact, they stay so close to the original that at times it felt more like a remake than a sequel.

And this leads to a Catch-22 for the film. On one hand, whenever the film tries to use the same scare tactics as in “The Blair Witch Project,” they feel like old hat to somebody like me who is not only a fan of the original film but also someone who re-watched it the day before going to see the sequel. The result is those moments are not nearly as scary or intense as they were the first time we visited these Maryland woods.

On the other hand, whenever the new film tries to up the ante of the original, especially when we actually start seeing the supernatural elements, it loses the levels of plausibility and believability that the original used so effectively. And as a somebody who is not traditionally a horror fan, that believability was what produced the most actual horror and dread.

That’s not to say the supernatural elements couldn’t have worked and produced a truly scary movie, but the script is really a mess when it comes to these elements. First of all, there is way too much reliance on cheap jump-scares, and making matters worse, most of them are fake-outs. Second of all, there are so many varied and disconnected things happening to our characters that it never truly feels like a single evil entity is out there tormenting them. As I mentioned, they pull many of the scare tactics from the original, but in each case, they had to up the ante and actually show us things instead of letting them hide in the dark where they were much scarier. There are also new elements added that both don’t feel connected at all to the mythology of the Blair Witch, but ultimately never go anywhere from a story perspective. It honestly felt at times like the writers were just randomly coming up with horrible things to happen to our characters when it was time for another horrible thing to happen to our characters.

I will admit, the final 15-20 minutes of the movie are pretty suspenseful and produce some genuinely tension-filled moments, although even here, there are new random elements thrown in with no explanation. Unfortunately, the random nature of the horror up this point combined with so many retreads from the original had led me to mostly check out of the story, so instead of worrying about what was going to happen next to our characters, I was more concerned with how much time was left before the credits would start rolling.

As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a fan of “Blair Witch.” Frankly, despite having a much smaller budget, the original was simply a much better film. My one caveat for the sequel is I do believe anyone who has not seen the original will probably get more out of “Blair Witch” than those who have. Still, if you’re looking for a good and genuine scary found-footage horror film, I’d stick with the original.

“Blair Witch” is rated R for language, terror and some disturbing images.

(This is a abbreviated version of the full review available in our printed or e-edition papers.)

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