It all started nearly 20 years ago when a film phenomenon took the world by storm with the original Blair Witch Project. However, after the critical and commercial failure of its sequel, Book of Shadows, the franchise had reached an untimely conclusion. Now, Adam Wingard has released the third installment in the horror franchise, making it no longer safe to go into the woods.
Our film starts off showing an upgraded version of the ending of the original movie, with Heather running through the house before being knocked to the ground by an unseen force. This movie starts with a brief expositional monologue by documentarian Lisa Arlington, played by Callie Hernandez, stating that even though they were able to recover the footage from the crew, they never found the house that was shown nor the bodies. The subject of her documentary is James, played by James Allen McCune, who is the brother of Heather from the first film.
Originally, he had given up hope of finding his sister until new footage showing what might be her demise was uploaded to YouTube, prompting him to take Lisa and his two friends, Ashley and Peter, played by Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott respectively, to speak to the person who uploaded the video and have him take them to the place where he found the tape. However, it isn’t long until some very familiar and spooky things begin to haunt and terrify the new crew as they fight to escape the fate of Heather and her friends.
Adam Wingard went above and beyond to use the found footage gimmick for all that it’s worth. By giving each member of the crew ear pieces with cameras, the audience is given a genuine first person perspective from the characters. As a result, it is significantly more immersive without the problem of having to create an excuse for why a member of their party is continuing to film everything, as well as why a person wouldn’t drop the camera and flee in a moment of life threatening, blind panic.
The special effects team did an excellent job in this movie. There are only a few times that we are shown anything that might be potentially super-natural that would require additional effects, and they really learned their lesson of “less is more.” A majority of the effects are very subtle and subdued, despite being downright gruesome in one particular instance, therefore making them far more credible and terrifying.
The movie definitely takes advantage of its short run-time. Before too long, our lead characters are already on the road going to the woods. At no point does this feel rushed, however, as the audience is actually given a chance to be introduced to the characters and actually shown their genuine friendships with each other. And, on a personal level of appreciation, you have to appreciate the fact that the movie never attempts to set up a previously non-existent love interest between any characters in lieu of legitimate development and establishment of their characters.
Lastly, and this is more of a gripe about the entire sub-genre of found footage movies as opposed to Blair Witch specifically. Namely, calling it a “found footage” film is stretching the meaning when it had to be edited to be what it is we watched. After all, in this film, there are no less than seven different cameras that were used over the course of the movie’s 90 minute run-time, cutting in between different characters in dialogue scenes.
I don’t fault the movie for being found footage; as a matter of fact, it is done far better here than in many others. It just undermines the realism when I can’t help but imagine that some member of some law enforcement agency in Western Maryland was watching the grisly, inexplicable murder of six local 20-somethings and then he decided to cut in an orchestral sting to create a bigger jump scare effect when Lisa didn’t actually see the person who tapped her on the shoulder.
The newest installment of the Blair Witch was a solid entry, and arguably the scariest movie of the year. The special effects were simple and remarkably realistic, the acting was on par and quite respectable, and the film’s climax kept the audience on their seat for the entire last 20 to 30 minutes. However, the film doesn’t really break any new ground, and is hardly the revolutionary achievement of its predecessor. If you saw the first film, you owe it to yourself to venture back into the woods for the newest installment. Two and a half stars out of four.