Fans of The Blair Witch Project will find a lot to love about the 2016 sequel, simply titled Blair Witch. Pretty much everything that worked in the original horror film that was responsible for launching a wave of found footage movies can be found in this sequel, including those creepy stick figures hanging from trees and freaky noises at night in the woods. There’s a lot of déjà vu moments, but there’s also enough twists and turns to keep Blair Witch from falling into the trap of being basically just an updated copy of the 1999 sleeper hit.
The filmmaking team of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett (The Guest, You’re Next) take the original as a starting point and move the story forward by following Heather’s much younger brother, James (James Allen McCune), as he attempts to figure out what happened to his sister in the woods all those years ago. The emergence of a tape that could possibly show Heather in the witch’s house prompts James to gather supplies and head out to the Burkittsville woods.
Joining him are aspiring filmmaker Lisa (Callie Hernandez); his best friend, Peter (Brandon Scott); and Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid). The local guy who supposedly found the tape that may have included a brief glimpse of Heather invites himself and his girlfriend along for the trip into the woods. The locals, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), know the area well and are up on all the Blair Witch stories and legends, so James and his friends very reluctantly let them tag along. A decision which you know is going to bite them in the butt before the witch hunt is over.
The first half an hour of Blair Witch goes overboard with the shaky cam to the point of distraction. But the film does settle into a bit of a smoother groove as the gang actually enters the woods. Once there, there’s plenty of jump scares and spooky shenanigans going on. There’s also a weird twist that puts a unique spin on the events on screen. Also working in the sequel’s favor is the incorporation of new technology including a drone that expands the view of the world for the gang in the woods.
Even with the new technology, it’s still the old-school off-screen noises that generate the most scares. Wingard and Barrett push all the right buttons, letting the action outside of the camera’s lens help build up the terror.
The Blair Witch Project effectively used the found footage format, igniting a genre that’s since been ridiculed and pushed aside because of its overuse. Blair Witch may not win back those who’ve grown tired of shaky cams/found footage, but at least it has a legitimate reason for using the technique. And, the chills and thrills served up in the film’s final half-hour make this sequel nearly as scary as the original The Blair Witch Project.
MPAA Rating: R for language, terror and some disturbing images
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: September 16, 2016