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Into the woods again - 'Blair Witch'

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Sequel fails to capture groundbreaking spirit of original

Whether you loved it or hated it, there's no denying that 1999's 'The Blair Witch Project' proved to be a groundbreaking film. The microbudget found-footage horror thriller was a game changer not just in stylistic terms, but in marketing terms as well. It offered a new path to making movies and to selling them.

And now it has a sequel.

'Blair Witch' continues the story set forth in the original movie (and much like this new film, we're happy to go ahead and pretend that 2000's execrable 'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2' never happened). Hotshot horror director Adam Wingard takes the helm, working from a script by his regular screenwriting collaborator Simon Barrett.

The film follows the brother of one of the original trio lost in the Burkittsville woods as he sets out to try and determine just what happened to his sister. Unfortunately, while the movie certainly takes advantage in the advances in technology in terms of filmmaking, it never quite captures the rough-and-ready visceral nature of the original. This new offering has its moments, to be sure, but it ultimately winds up feeling a bit derivative.

James (James Allen McCune, TV's 'Shameless') has spent his entire life wondering what happened to his sister Heather when she vanished into the woods. He was just four years old at the time; now, 17 years later, he has seen footage posted on the internet purportedly from a tape found near where she disappeared and decides that he has to try and solve the mystery of her disappearance.

Conveniently enough, his friend Liza (Callie Hernandez, 'Members Only') is working on a project for her documentary film class and decides to document James's journey to unearth his sister's fate. James's old friends Peter (Brandon Scott, 'Amaru') and Ashley (Corbin Reid, 'Words with Girls') come along for the ride as they make their way to Burkittsville.

They meet up with the couple who discovered the footage; Lane (Wes Robinson, TV's 'State of Affairs') and Talia (Valorie Curry, TV's 'The Tick') are true believers in the Blair Witch mythos who invite themselves along on the group's journey into the forest.

However, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone. They find themselves desperately trying to save themselves from unseen forces that they cannot comprehend. Lost in the woods without any way to contact the outside world or find their way home, all they can do is rely on one another and try to make it through a night that may never come to an end.

Look the makers of 'Blair Witch' put themselves into a tight spot here. The original movie came along at precisely the right time, taking advantage of the relative newness of internet influence to create something that transcended cinema. This new movie is just another in a long line of found-footage horror movies. It isn't bad, per se it's just nothing special.

For better or worse, 'Blair Witch' is essentially a recreation of that first film, with all of the significant beats more or less matching up. In terms of quality, there's no denying that this new installment it better, but the low-res nature of the original was part of what made it work. Sure, the sequel has higher-quality video and more cameras and even some drone shots, but it doesn't have much in the way of soul.

Wingard and Barrett are legit; their 'You're Next' was a fantastic take on the home invasion genre, so it makes sense that they'd be called upon to work their magic in the found-footage realm. Unfortunately, it never quite clicks. It's difficult to articulate just why it doesn't work (though bringing back the heavy usage of the shaky-cam was absolutely the wrong call); basically, the world changed more than the movie did.

There's not much to be said about the cast. They're blandly good-looking people ostensibly trying to be 'real' and trying way too hard. Just about every performance is forgettably adequate camaraderie followed by confusion followed by terror. It's actually kind of fascinating their work is formulaic and clich, but the formula they're following more or less originated with the original film. It's interestingjust not interesting enough to rescue the general blah-ness of the cast.

(No spoilers, but this has to be mentioned: there's a particularly grievous error that this film commits in the third act that largely negates whatever impact it might have generated and shows that the filmmakers failed to learn at least one extremely valuable lesson from the original.)

That said, there are definitely some scares to be had here. And the first two-thirds of 'Blair Witch' had me squirming in my seat and holding my breath. However and this was an oft-cited complaint regarding the original as well the payoff left a lot to be desired. So while I admire the desire to revisit the world of the Blair Witch, 'Blair Witch' simply can't be the sequel that it clearly wants to be.

It still beats the hell out of 'Book of Shadows,' though.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:37

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