As an oddly recent fan of the original Blair Witch Project (having watched it about ten years late, in my horror film class just last month), I walked into Blair Witch with much excitement, and high optimism founded on the rave reviews from horror film review sites such as Bloody Disgusting: "Blair Witch won’t affect seasoned horror fans (as much), but rest assured that it will destroy everyone else. This film will hurt people. It’s the emotional experience that transcends traditional narrative storytelling and ascends to a place of Nirvana.” Perhaps it is partly to do with this elevated expectation, but Blair Witch really did not live up to the hype.
While Adam Wingard kept things moving with something literally jumping every ten minutes (and emphasized by a soundtrack that was a mix between the MGM lion logo on repeat and someone dropping a bowling ball on the floor above also on repeat) or so, and there were moments of hilarious genre self-reflexivity, Blair Witch ultimately went nowhere new, and certainly does not stay with the audience. The story is much the same as the original, except this time it is Heather’s brother, James, who is heading into the woods. He believes he has found evidence that his sister is still alive, in the woods, and takes three friends (Lisa, Ashley, and Peter) with him to try to find her. The two locals who were suppose to be their guides also ends up tagging along for the trip.
In this case, more is not better — retelling the “lost in the woods” story with double the cast, and much, much better film equipment (they even bring a drone with them) meant a much fuller screen experience (more angles) and a much faster pace (more things happening crammed into the same hour and a half allotment) means that the rhythm of the film becomes rushed and utterly lacking in the restraint that was the best part about the original. And the addition of the new camera angles and highly exaggerated soundtrack only exacerbates this flaw further. Instead of a slow build-up, the film rams into high gear almost as soon as they enter the woods, and the jump scares continue right to the end, with almost no variation.
There are a few gems in the film, such as the meta humour in the scene where after yet another person pops on to the screen accompanied by an inexplicably loud sound effect, Lisa exasperatedly exclaims: “Everyone stop doing that!” There are also some fairly inventive horror moments, such as the events surrounding Ashley’s foot wound, which simultaneously invokes proper body horror and camp, and the claustrophobic shots of Lisa trying to escape the house via a very tight underground tunnel.
But these moments do not make up for the incessant and very cheap jump scares that comprise the bulk of the film. The story is almost an exact retelling of the original, but with none of the elegance.