Watch people get lost in the woods.

0710131WRPv1

1999

Few films reach the same level of cultural acclaim as the original Blair Witch film, but does it deserve all the fame? The film does hold up surprisingly well—despite the endless barrage of found footage films that have released since. Blair Witch Project is not the first found footage horror film. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is likely the first to fully embrace the idea of making a movie that looks like a documentary.

Found footage as a genre is obviously done for budgetary reasons. When rewatching this film, I wonder what the actual budget was (it could not have been much—IMDB claims 60K). Amazing to think about what can be done with effort and a small wallet. The film is by no means perfect, but it does do a lot of things well.

Three film students travel to Maryland to investigate the local legends surrounding the forest. The actual Blair Witch seems to be one of many oddities in the area, though perhaps the most powerful. Perhaps a side-effect of the budgetary limitations is that the characters look real. The glitzed actors we usually see are not present in this film. The realness of the characters goes beyond their looks—the set designs are great. Now, before you say “the set is a forest”—I know, but look at the campsites. I wonder if they actually camped out there. The small details of realism pull the viewer into the film better than most.

The characters aren’t necessarily likable, but they are understandable. Creating a character that one can believe actually exists is something most films choose to ignore anymore. Our three students don’t fit nicely into basic archetypes, which is a refreshing change. They get lost (almost immediately) and the bickering and fighting that ensues is completely believable.

The film does a better job presenting the terror of being lost than it does the supernatural threats. The cold, hunger, and fear translate through in no small part because the actors look cold, hungry, and afraid. The slow burn of the threats and the pressing atmosphere makes for a fun viewing.

The film lacks a bit in the conclusion. Ever since seeing the film in theaters, not liking the ending has been a bit of a contentious topic. Myself (and the friend I saw it with) both thought it was a bit lacking. Others thought it was the pinnacle of terror. Today’s audiences will probably (?) come down more on my side as we have come to expect more visceral conclusions. The movie is well-crafted, and a long fuse is attached to a firecracker. I am not saying the film is bad. The moment when Heather discovers what is inside the bizarre wood figure outside of their tent is one of the best reactions in horror.

The film is worth watching and overall has earned its place in the horror lexicon. I know it is a tall order to watch another found footage film, but this one shows that they all don’t have to be the same crap. 8.5/10

2016

Look! More attractive people get lost in the woods in the unnecessary reboot. Sure, it is supposed to be a sequel, but let’s all not fool ourselves.

This time around, Heather’s brother (who was 4 when she went missing) goes back to the woods after seeing an online video. For some reason, he takes a film student and two friends with him.

Efforts to keep this film hidden until shortly before release (see the link above) might have been done to not let audiences question too deeply why we needed it to be made. There isn’t a whole lot to say about the movie. It simply fails to meet the bar in any way that the original set.

First of all, six characters is way too many for a 90-minute film. I predicted that the film would shave us down to three or four quickly and was mostly right. Characters should not be throw-away cannon fodder in order to reveal a scare (something almost every horror film could learn from). New technology and new folks don’t bring any new scares to the story. All we get is a sleeker and polished camping experience.

I mentioned above that the first film’s efforts for realism (perhaps unintentional) added great depth. The reboot looks like a movie set. The lighting is too good, tents too nice, and the people are too dumb. Further, there is a great inconsistency in how the characters act. When one character injures her foot (I had to look up her name, which is Ashley by the way) she seems debilitated when convenient. When she needs to run, she runs, when she needs to climb the most comically obvious fake tree, she can. How injured was she?

The biggest difference that we see is the supernatural stuff. Instead of creepy stuff happening off camera and us sitting with the characters, we get shit flying all over the place. Wow! Did you see that tent fly away? So cool! I have never seen stuff move fast with a booming noise in a found footage film. We get frustrating glimpses of the creatures, incidents, and so forth. The film falls into the most aggravating aspects of found footage by making you painfully aware of the fact they are too lazy to let you get a good look at anything.

The film is predictable to a fault. At best, it hopes to ride on the nostalgia of the first one. At worst, it diminishes the legacy of the original. Further, the film commits the worst sin of a horror film. It isn’t scary. It isn’t even tense. Save your money on this one, folks. 3/10

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