DreadWorld Review: 'Blair Witch' (2016)

17 years ago Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez scared the shit out of the better part of the free world with their debut feature, The Blair Witch Project. That film was followed by a sequel, subtitled "Book of Shadows" directed by the immensely talented Joe Berlinger. The sequel to The Blair Witch Project was fucked with by the studio so much, that any creativity or originality was sucked completely out of it. The other thing that followed the immense success of the original Blair Witch Project was the backlash. Suddenly, and probably for one of the first times in the young history of the internet, the contrarians came out of the woodwork to declare that The Blair Witch Project "sucked." It was boring. It wasn't scary. All of which was a load of crap. While not for everyone, especially in the wake of the over the top gore fests that littered the 2000's, to say The Blair Witch Project "sucked" was nothing but a vain attempt to hang out with the cool kids on the playground.

Whether it was because of the backlash, the failed sequel, or the horror environment of the last 15 years or so, it took Lionsgate the better part of two decades to revisit the franchise. When they did so they enlisted the talents of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. That duo has been responsible for some of the more memorable and well made horror films over the last decade. Films like A Horrible Way to Die, You're Next, and The Guest have shown that Wingard and Barrett are capable of great things and a remarkable growth in artistry from film to film. So when Wingard and Barrett's The Woods became Blair Witch, the horror community stood up and took notice.

Blair Witch picks up in real time, 17 years after Heather Donahue's footage was discovered leading to the original film. In the wake of the original discovery, there were searches launched, investigations commenced and the town of Burkettsville, Maryland became ground zero for locating the missing documentarians. But eventually time, as it's wont to do moved on, the townsfolk of Burkettville did all they could to suppress the legend of the Blair Witch, end the search, and go back to their lives. All was quiet on the Blair Witch front until Heather's younger brother, James, now 21 years old, watches some new footage reportedly from his sisters camera on the interwebs. He seeks out the uploader, eventually making contact and setting up an expedition to search for his long lost sister. With the table set, the woods are entered, and much like 17 years ago, the horror begins.

I used the phrase "much like 17 years ago" purposefully. If you are one of the folks that had a problem with the pacing of the original film, you may check out of Blair Witch early. Barrett and Wingard set up a similar dynamic, borrowing heavily from the first films set up, it feels familiar. they understand this though and throw a couple of curve balls to keep folks on their toes. In contrast to the the almost bloodless original, the 2016 version of Blair Witch does play a little looser with the blood and gore than it's predecessor. They even throw in a nice Cronenbergian (did I just coin a term?) body horror moment to up the gross out factor. That being said, if you are looking for Evil Dead 2013 levels of carnage you are setting yourself up to be disappointed.

While he first hour of Blair Witch may meander a bit, it's in it's last half an hour where the film really makes it's bones. Those familiar with the original film are already familiar with the structure. Lost in the woods followed by the discovery of the Rustin Parr house where the "witch" resides and shit gets crazy. Barrett and Wingard speed up the timeline a bit, we get to the house earlier, and by proxy shit gets crazier sooner. If the first hour of the film is a test of your patience, the last 30 minutes is a white knuckled balls to the wall test of your nerves.

The other thing, besides the last half hour that Wingard and Barrett get right is the reverence for the original Blair Witch mythology. They do not try to change the mythos, or do anything to reinvent the wheel. They play with it, expanding on small, sometimes even throwaway lines, from the original film to flush out the backstory and deepen the Rustin Parr/Blair Witch/Elly Kedward mythology. The eagle eyed and keen eared viewer will be able to enjoy the films referential subtext as almost a different film than the surface story. It is highly recommended that you at least watch Myrick and Sanchez's original film before seeing the 2016 version of the Blair Witch. The film is definitely more satisfying for those steeped in the mythology than for those going into the film blind.

Blair Witch suffers from some of the same pacing issues that plagued it's predecessor. It is not a balls to the wall gore fest. It's not as much of a psychological horror film as the original. The first hour certainly borrows liberally from the canvas presented to Wingard and Barrett by Sanchez and Myrick. But where the original film can feel repetitive at and test your patience, the sequel strikes a better balance between set up and payoff. It's not going to change the way we see horror, or the horror landscape like the way The Blair Witch Project did, there is no reason to dump that kind of hyperbole on what is just a solid lost in the woods horror film with a satisfyingly mythos hell of a third act.

**** Stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

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