New vs Old: The Blair Witch
One of my all time favorites when it comes to horror will always be The Blair Witch Project. There was nothing that really compared back in 1999 when it hit the theaters and it even took a step further by being the first to use the internet to create the mystery and had everyone asking, "Did this really happen?". With all this hype, it managed to still pay off and in my opinion, The Blair Witch Project managed to be one of the scariest films of all times.
Are you still reading after that statement? Okay, good because I want to explain. The reason why I believe this to be one of the scariest films because of two very important factors; character development and the building sense of dread. These are so important in the Blair Witch Project because you have to be in the woods with these three kids and you have to feel their fear. Otherwise, a found footage film will fail tremendously. We have seen that happen before and last night I watched it happen again.
The three actors in the original improved most of this movie and the tension between them had me asking, "Are these just normal people who believe there really is a witch or are these the best actors in the world?". I still believe that today and maybe it's because I was almost three years in the army when I originally saw it and fresh off a tour in Bosnia. (Going to get a little deep here so bare with me)
There are many creepy and slow burns in The Blair Witch Project but the final scene in the house, to this day, makes the hairs on my neck stand up and it's all because of a scream. My first deployment I saw a few things that will probably never leave me, but the biggest one was hearing a panicked scream. I was a pretty sheltered kid growing up so at 20 years old, I was a blank canvass for impressions and when I witnessed someone in real terror with that life-ending, animalistic scream, I never wanted to hear it again. Then a year later I saw The Blair Witch Project and Heather Donahue's exhausted, desperate...scared witless scream, I was listening to it again. That's not acting. That's someone who knows they are going to die.
When the movie ended, I sat in my chair, my back and legs drenched in sweat and stayed there until the full credits were finished rolling. It was ride I had never been on and for the first time ever, after I went outside to smoke a cigarette, I bought another ticket to see it again.
A few months ago, a pretty popular trailer for a horror movie set in the woods was revealed to be the long awaited followup to The Blair Witch Project, ignoring Book of Shadows, and the internet totally shit itself with excitement. I was one of those shitters too but there was a part of me wondering how they will this pull off since the original leaned so heavily on the actors. It would have to have something new or explain the lore that made the Burkettsville spooks and history so interesting? Maybe it will shed light on the locals? Perhaps we will see more of Coffin Rock or the amazing abandoned cemetery?
Nope. We got none of it.
It's hard for me to talk about the new Blair Witch without spoiling a lot of it so if you haven't seen it, you can continue after you watch it although I will encourage you to wait until it's streamable. You're inner ear will thank me. The shaky cam was cranked to 11.
The plot of this sequel is pretty simple and bland. Almost twenty years later, Heather Donahue's brother takes his friend/girlfriend who happens to be a documentary film student, his best friend and girlfriend out on a quest to see what happened to his sister. With the aid of a strange couple he met online who found the original tapes, they head out into the woods to be killed by the witch. That's it. That's the movie and you know that in the first five minutes.
How can I write this without coming off as a pretentious dick? I probably can't so I will go in with both feet. This movie had zero impact one me. The characters where not very likable or memorable what so ever. In fact, they weren't acting well in this film. (I hate saying an actor sucks because of a film. That's unfair) It was if they were being forced to be in this film and hated camping. And the woods. And trees. All things their agents should have known before suggesting them in the casting.
The witch's story was barely even discussed! Part of the excitement going to see this was the long awaited Burketsville mysteries and the lore of the Blair Witch! We got none of it besides the local online weirdos stating the people don't like to talk about it. BULLSHIT! The first third of the original was all about the locals and what made that effective was how normal and everyday they were. In fact, they didn't mind talking about it at all which had the audience relating because in the eastern part of the U.S., every town has it's folklore and legends. And is the witch 100 feet tall? What? Why?
Jump scares proves one thing, directors. Your movie is not frightening and you use human reflexes in place of something frightening. You should be directing a movie about a quirky flower shop owner finding love in Seattle starring some idiots that have been type-casted long ago like David Schwimmer or Renee Zellwegger instead. It's the laziest form of horror known to man and it pisses us off. Stop it! Stop it! Okay? Okay.
This movie had about thirty jump scares and you know they are coming because the close angle shots of person's face or narrow flashlight views in the woods. Someone will pop out of nowhere and you will jump because it's the same reflex you have when someone pops a balloon behind your head. The reaction is the same too because you want to beat the shit out of who did it.
Everything that happens is predicted. I knew who would die first, who will be the last standing and how they will die. It was like watching an episode of Nip Tuck and predicting the "how could they do that on TV" twist. It's boring. That sums it all up. It's boring.
The new Blair Witch managed to do everything that I was hoping they would not. The creepy disorienting noises in the woods which made the original so effective were replaced with something that sounded like a boat horn. The simple tricks were replaced with over the top big budget crap. The characters were just not likable or believable in anyway and we never got the backstory or the Burketsville experience that would have made this film one of the best followups of all time. Basically, it's been only 12 hours since I left the theater and I have already forgotten most of it.
I will always love the original Blair Witch Project. It's one of those films that stays with you and when you are camping or walking through the woods, you start thinking of a witch that stalks and taunts until she finally gets you. It was unnerving, brilliantly shot, believable in performance, and created a lore that fascinates me today. Whether its the dead kids laughing outside the tent or the desperate screams of Heather in the final scene, I will never get this film out of my head and I love it. That should be the goal of any writer or director, I assume. If you are committed to your art, I would like to believe movies like the original are born. When you come from a place driven by a studio and investors, I believe this follow up sequel is born. And that makes me a sad panda.
I get weirdly defensive about The Blair Witch Project and I believe it was just the time when I saw it and the impact it had on me. I got into a debate that may have gotten personal with the friend at a bar the other night when she said it was boring. To me, that just means you weren't paying attention or you require big budget effects to feed your simple imagination. Regardless, I will always sound like a jerk when I hear people hate this film. So, I am sorry. But I bet you like Transformers: Age of Extinction, don't you? Don't lie to me!
In closing, I didn't like the new Blair Witch at all. But that is just my opinion and you know what they say about opinions.
Have you seen it? Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let's discuss!
"We didn't land on Coffin Rock, Coffin Rock landed on us" - Brian Hammons 2015