Movie Review: “Blair Witch” – The Sound and the Blurry

Written by Jeremiah Greville September 22, 2016

Blair Witch 2016

Nobody was really expecting it, but here we are with another sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Announced at San Diego Comic Con a mere three months before it’s theatrical debut, this film almost literally came out of nowhere with big promises of rejuvenating the stale and often crowded found-footage horror genre. Considering that its predecessor practically invented the genre, there were high hopes for this most recent iteration, but apart from expanding ever-so-slightly on the mythos, Blair Witch is a wasted effort.

Blair Witch takes place twenty years after the events of the first film, which, while released in 1999, was set in 1994. It follows the brother of one of the characters from the original movie as he tries his best to find his sister in the same haunted woods. Accompanied by his friends, the group films their experiences as part of a planned documentary on the Blair Witch legend. Sure enough, as you’ve guessed, things don’t go as planned, and our heroes soon find themselves in a situation they can’t escape.

“No one comes out this way.”

Blair Witch starts out promising, and is legitimately foreboding throughout. The introduction to the characters is perfunctory and rarely memorable, but does exactly what it needs to in order to set up the later horror. We’re given inventory and explanation of how the camera setup will work, and of the various character motivations. Throughout the first act, however, we’re also introduced to this movie’s one and only horror trick: loud noises. Jump scares through sound are nothing new, but the Blair Witch series has always relied on atmospheric sound (cracking sticks, thumping noises, etc) to get the job done. The 2016 version spends the first half hour dulling our senses with loud bits of digital blare during scene transitions, each an uneasy and unearned jump scare before any of the legitimate terror starts to begin. By the time the scary stuff starts happening, it’s a lot of roar with very little bite.

Blair Witch 2016 - Wes Bobinson Lane, Valorie Curry-Talia

The Blair Witch Project succeeded through subtlety, showing us the terror the protagonists were feeling, not the source of it. It was truly an example of the power we have to scare ourselves, and just how frightening our own imaginations can be. That ‘less is more’ approach is at work here as well, but with the ‘bigger is better’ ethos of most sequels nowadays. Because of this we’re left with a strange beast of a film, one that spends time and money on elaborate effects and set pieces, but that doesn’t ever really show us the menace behind it all as it’s happening. In one sense this is a successful escalation of the original film’s approach, and I can certainly see many viewers leaving the theatre pleased with the experience. But like the sound editing in the first part of the film, a lot of nothing can eventually leave the viewer numb to whatever’s left, and by the time Blair Witch reached its conclusion, I didn’t really care what happened to any of these people.

“I just heard something moving outside.”

The escalation of action from the first film is fairly well done, but draws too much focus and ultimately robs the movie of any appreciable thematic flow. The relative safety and worry that should have been sprinkled throughout is all in the first half, while the action and danger is all in the second. This means that there’s no tension by the halfway point, and we’re left with characters screaming into the camera and at each other, when they’re not running from something we can’t see. Horror relies on tension and flow to be effective—we need to have time to understand the threat and feel the fear—but instead of a steady, quickening pulse, the ECG of this film is like a shock through electric paddles: rapidly uphill, then eventually flat-lining.

Blair Witch 2016

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that Blair Witch is wholly unscary or lacking in any worthwhile horror thrills, because when it works it works really well. But the lack of a proper balance between tension and danger throughout is only exacerbated by the idea that we’re never really shown the monster of the film. Yes, there are snippets, and yes, not seeing is the point, but without any firm grasp of the danger the characters are in, the film can do nothing but underwhelm.

“Maybe they weren’t looking in the right place.”

Finally, one of my biggest pet peeves in film and television are distracting foley effects—the noises added in post-production to give weight to what you’re seeing in the film, like the sounds of footsteps, punches, and gunshots. Since the success of Blair Witch as a horror film is due in part to how realistic it seems as a found-footage production, distracting foley effects in a few key scenes actually made the film worse. Foley effects are one aspect of film magic that should never be noticed—if they’re done right, you never even know that they’re there. Here, they just serve as more evidence that the filmmakers had too much money and not enough insight to know when, or how, to use it.

Blair Witch 2016

It’s clearer, flashier, and more expensive than the original, but 2016’s Blair Witch isn’t any better than the first one. The same half-hidden creature in the woods, the same blurry camerawork, and the same beat-for-beat scares make the whole thing feel like a desperate re-hash of the original. It amps up the action and effects but loses all of the dread and genuine horror that made the The Blair Witch Project so good. Despite a bigger budget and better technology, it’s the same old story of getting lost in the woods.

My Rating: 6/10

Blair Witch Poster 2016

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on Movie Review: “Blair Witch” – The Sound and the Blurry. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment