Let’s take a trip back to 1999, shall we? Prince was partying like it was, well, then. Bill Clinton was in the midst of yet another scandal and there was a low budget film known as The Blair Witch Project that was the talk of the summer. A lot has changed since then, but it’s been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s even more poignant when it comes to 2016’s Blair Witch which, for all intents and purposes, is a remake of 1999’s cult hit. Or is it? Having just watched the original a few months back, I can say that it hasn’t aged too well. While it didn’t start the “found footage” genre, it certainly propelled it to the mainstream. And, of course, the movie wasn’t real, though a very convincing documentary made it appear that there was factual basis for that movie. But let’s not live in the past, shall we? We’ve got a new film and one that wisely ignores the sequel, Blair Witch: Book of Shadows from 2000. The less said about that, the better.
As I mentioned before, if you’ve seen the original, you’ve essentially seen this one. But I’m all about wasting your time, so let’s get to it. James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of Heather (Heather Donohue) from the first one. He’s spent a fair amount of time wondering what happened to his older sister and decides to make the same venture into the woods to see if he can figure out the mystery. Of course he won’t go alone, he’s got an ethnically diverse group to accompany him. Lisa (Callie Hernandez) as well as Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) to keep him company. They meet up with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who claim to have found a videotape in the woods under a tree. As you might imagine, things don’t go as planned and, well…you know the rest.
Admittedly, this isn’t a shot by shot remake of the original. There are some not so subtle differences like the use of drones for video, a higher quality of sound and picture as well as a larger, more diverse cast. But the general gist of the movie is the same and without giving too much away, most of the same things happen. Did I ruin it for you? Trust me, I didn’t. To the filmmaker’s credit, they’ve got a pretty good crew behind the camera. Director Adam Wingard (best-known for You’re Next) might have been the right man for the job. And, to be fair, this isn’t a total train wreck it’s just yet another case of “I’ve seen this someplace before…”. Speaking as someone who lives in Maryland and hates camping, I can say that the damage was done a long time ago. I’ll not go into the woods looking for a witch or will enter a dilapidated house that looks like termites holding hands. Nope. Not me. But if you want a little nostalgia in your life, I suppose there’s a lot else out there worse than Blair Witch.
Video: How’s it look?
I’d mentioned this above, but The Blair Witch Project essentially brought the “found footage” genre to the mainstream. Granted, the production values are higher here, but not by much. We “see” the action through the lens of a camera which is the entire point of a film (and films) like this. I suppose it puts you in the action more than a traditional film. Having said that, the 1.78:1 AVC HD transfer looks marginally better than its predecessor, but if you’re looking for this to epitomize the essence of HD films then you’re in the wrong place. Colors are a bit off, detail is average at best and the forest seems to be a bit muddled from time to time. A majority of the film takes place at night, so there’s not a lot of range here. While not bad looking, there are certainly better films out there.
Audio: How’s it sound?
My how far we’ve come. We’ve now got a film that uses rudimentary camera equipment that gives us a next generation audio format. Yep, you didn’t read that wrong, we’ve got a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that actually doesn’t sound half bad. Granted vocals are at the center of this movie, but the surround sounds really do give this an edge on the audio front. I have to admit that the sounds, creaks and general ambiance of the film really do give an aura of “creepiness” that I hadn’t expected. It might not be up there with the best I’ve heard, but I was pleasantly surprised. Well done here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Audio Commentary – Director Adam Wingard and Writer Simon Barrett offer a self-deprecating commentary track. This was recorded a few weeks after the film’s release and it the reviews weren’t kind. Still, it’s chock full of some interesting tidbits and with some obvious nods to the original. It’s well worth a listen, actually.
Neverending Night: The Making of Blair Witch – Running longer than the film itself, this 1 hour and 45 minute series of featurettes gives you just about everything you’d need to know about the film, the cast, the production and more. I found it a bit more intriguing than the film itself.
House of Horrors: Exploring the Set – If you want to take all of the horror out of the film and get a tour of the house, you’ll be treated to this behind the scenes look at what made it the way it is.
The Bottom Line
Some things are better left alone and Blair Witch falls into some of the obvious pratfalls that most sequels (yes, I’m referring to this as a sequel, even though it isn’t) do. It’s bigger, has more “shock” value and tries to improve on the original. But here’s the thing – the original didn’t need to be improved upon.