When it was announced at Comic Con that Adam Wingard’s The Woods (which already had a bit of hype about it even though no one knew much about it) was actually a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, it seemed a bit of a masterstroke of marketing. Immediately a movie that might otherwise have elicited shrugs and accusations of cashing in on a dead franchise, instead jumped to the top of horror fanboys interest lists.
Now though it’s starting to seem like it might have worked a little too well, as it raised the hype level so high that unless the actual movie turned out to be a surprising and zeitgeist-capturing as the original 1999 film, it was bound to be seen as disappointing. And that’s just what happened when it was released in cinemas, with most people seeing it as more of remake than a sequel – and it was actually outgrossed by the almost universally derided earlier follow-up, Book Of Shadows.
The plot takes us back into found footage land, following student filmmaker Lisa, who’s making a documentary about James, the brother of Heather from the first movie, as they head into the woods near Burkittsville hoping to find some answers about what happened to his sister. Taking their friends Ashley and Peter with them, they first visit Lane and Talia, who say they found a video in the woods that shows someone running upstairs in an old, broken house, which includes a shot of what James thinks might be Heather.
Once they’re all in the Black Hills forest things unsurprisingly start to go wrong. Initially it seems like someone might be pranking them to make them think the woods are cursed. However, the further they go the clearer it is that they really have entered the Blair Witch’s world, and she doesn’t want to let them go.
Even from that synopsis you can see why many have said it’s more remake than sequel. After all, it’s once again people making a documentary in the woods near Burkittsville, the whole thing consists of so-called found footage, there’s lots of people freaking out in the forest, and they inevitably end up in the same house as in the original. There’s a definite sense of déjà vu to lots of it, and while it attempts to take things a bit further and bring in new elements, it doesn’t feel like it goes quite far enough.
For example, while the first movie famously didn’t show you anything of the Witch herself, here you do get a glimpse of something that may or may not be her. It also explores things such as time dilation in the forest, as well as bringing in some of the new technology that is available now but wasn’t in 1999, such as earpiece cameras and drones.
However, the filmmakers also seem aware that what helped the first movie to work was its seeming simplicity and the fact you didn’t see anything or really know what was going on. As a result, it often feels with Blair Witch that they’re slightly afraid to really use the new elements and technology to their full extent in case it seems gimmicky or doesn’t feel Blair Witch-y enough. While the first Blair Witch sequel, 2000’s Book Of Shadows, is largely derided, at least it pushed things further in terms of both the the mythology and by heightening the meta-movie idea by making it about fans of the first film ending up in the woods and discovering there really is something freaky going on there. Sure, it wasn’t that good, but Blair Witch goes too far the other way, occasionally suggesting interesting and/or new ideas but then being so afraid of doing much with them that it ends up feeling like you’re watching a remake, except with some extra traditional horror movie elements and a slightly larger budget thrown in.
That’s not to say Blair Witch is bad, just that it feels a tiny bit pointless, not helped by the fact there are a few too many clichés (particularly when characters do dumb things) and a couple of unintentionally funny moments. It’s an okay film though, which if it hadn’t had the Comic Con hype probably wouldn’t have endured a lot of the criticism it got. It certainly offers a few decent jump scares, there are a couple of extremely effective sections, and the sound design is often impressive, but ultimately you might as well go and watch the original again.
The Blu-ray also contains a very good, feature-length ‘making of…’ documentary, which is an extremely interesting watch. While everyone involved, from the cast to director Adam Wingard and beyond, are very enthusiastic, you can see where some of the problems came from. However, it’s still an interesting look at how the film came together, the secrecy around it, taking us through the production and right the way to the big reveal at Comic Con. It’s well worth a look, although it is perhaps a problem when your ‘making of…’ documentary is arguably better than the movie it’s about.
Overall Verdict: An okay return to the world of the Blair Witch, but a slight timidity about really pushing things forward either in the mythology or the found footage conceit does make it feel a little too similar to the first movie.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac