“BLAIR WITCH” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
When reviewing a film, there’s much to be taken into account, but at the end of the day, a critic’s job is to review the film and only the film. Sure, one could spend their whole day discussing the various impacts of the film’s marketing, the early hype, the legacy of films that came before it, or even what the film signifies in the bigger picture of modern cinema. But for a critic, a review should focus on their personal experience to the film in question, without any outside elements weighing upon their expectations. In lesser terms, you’re not reviewing what the film should be, but rather what the film is. And in the case of Adam Wingard’s BLAIR WITCH, the film is a perfectly fine horror offering whose pedestrian nature is actually hindered by the occasional stroke of brilliance that the filmmaker and his frequent collaborator Simon Barrett bring to the table.
Outside of the found footage format, of which the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a major proponent, the main element that BLAIR WITCH shares with its predecessor is the perspective of young adults making a documentary about mysterious going-ons in the Black Hills Forest outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. In this film, the brother of Heather from BLAIR WITCH PROJECT discovers new footage that appears to be his missing sister on the internet, and sets out with a small crew and a pair of eccentric locals to get some closure on his sister’s disappearance. Yet after spending a night in the woods, things begin to turn eerie, and soon, the group discovers they’re being targeted by an ancient malevolent entity that looks to destroy them all.
In many ways, BLAIR WITCH works, both on a technical and narrative level. On a technical level, the film sports an excellent sound design and ambient soundtrack, as well as production design that feels authentic to the location; in fact, once the film enters the Rustin Parr house, the film becomes a claustrophobic, spookshow nightmare that’ll keep you gripping your knees until the very end. Furthermore, BLAIR WITCH explores some truly fun ideas organic to the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s narrative, including the manipulation of time and space, the real purpose behind the trademark stick-figures, and how the Witch manipulates your mind. In this regards, Wingard and Barrett keep the film from feeling too similar, and set up some nightmarish set pieces throughout BLAIR WITCH.
However, BLAIR WITCH is not just a flawed film, but in many ways, the things that make it so unique and clever are what ultimately doom the film tonally. In limiting itself to the found footage format, the film falls often on many of the tired tropes of the subgenre, from ‘bumping-into-one-another’ jump scares to multiple character’s being dragged off-screen for an unseen fate to irritating camera glitches to mask edits. But beyond that, the narrative seems to fall prey to similar tropes as well: relentless name-screaming, the “you’re all gonna die” warning, character development patched together from undefined interactions. And that’s before the logic lapses, such as why someone with a debilitating leg injury would scale a tree, or introducing character traits without exploring said traits, such as Lisa and James’ romantic bond, Lisa’s potentially exploitative nature, Lane’s racist iconography, and, hell, one wonders why James would even go out in those woods and potentially leave his parents childless.
But these problems don’t necessarily make BLAIR WITCH a bad movie; they simply create a mediocre movie with moments of inspiration that escalate, but never elevate, the found footage action. In this regards, BLAIR WITCH follows the found-footage playbook to the point where the brilliant narrative tricks feel aggravating, as you know the potential of these ideas could be explored so much more fruitfully in a traditionally lensed story. Barrett and Wingard’s penchant for subversion is what gives BLAIR WITCH its memorable moments, but when those moments don’t quite redefine the fairly underwhelming action beforehand, the progression of tension feels regrettably unearned. At the same time, Wingard and Barrett truly did their damnedest to bring the BLAIR WITCH mythos to the screen through their own visceral voices, and even sporadic success is still successful nonetheless.
Overall, this writer believes that BLAIR WITCH only works as well as the audience’s threshold for found footage; BLAIR WITCH is competent, sometimes chilling, and frequently frustrating, but the film certainly doesn’t break ground in the subgenre. However, if you’re still receptive to the format, you should enjoy the ride of Wingard and Barrett’s BLAIR WITCH, especially once the film’s third act kicks in and gets a little stranger than what you may expect from a studio horror offering.