When The Blair Witch Project came out in the summer of 1999, there was nothing else like it. Not only did it kick off the whole genre of found-footage horror, it was the culmination of a months-long internet-based marketing buildup. And remember: Google was less than a year old at this point. Nobody knew what to make of it. None of my group of friends believed that we were actually about to see the cobbled-together footage from a doomed expedition into the Maryland woods, but that night in line outside Baltimore’s Charles Theater, two weeks before it opened wide across the country, there was a communal fervor and curiosity that I haven’t seen matched since.
On the other hand, the movie itself hasn’t exactly aged well. It was more thoughtfully constructed than a lot of the found-footage we’ve seen since, but there’s just not much in the way of character or story. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (executive producers on the new movie) ran their heroes into the trees and threw rocks at them — literally at times — but that’s it. Once you take away the novelty of the style, what makes it worth watching?
And when it comes to Blair Witch the same questions apply. Setting aside the more traditionally produced Book of Shadows — the producers certainly want to and I’m happy to let them — what does a sequel to The Blair Witch Project have to offer, now that found-footage is among the most common horror styles? And unfortunately the answer is again, not much. The movie seems to have been produced on the Hangover 2 model: take a successful original and hit the exact same beats again, but bigger.
This time there are six victims, starting with James (James Allen McCune), the little brother of Heather from the first movie. His friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is making a documentary project for school about his search for his older sister, starting with a digital video tape found by Burkittsville locals Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry). And their friends Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) are along for the trip. Like the first movie, they go camping with a ton of camera equipment, completely unprepared for all the jump scares.
With a modern familiarity with found-footage techniques, it’s a lot easier to notice the seams. Most prominent is the editing; the film’s conceit is that it was assembled from data tapes and memory cards found in the woods in order to explain what happened, but it’s clearly cut in order to hide information rather than reveal it. This was easier to conceal in the original movie when they only had one camcorder and one 16mm camera with a limited amount of film. But when the crew brings in two or three high-definition cameras, headset cameras for everyone, and a camera-enabled drone, there’s just too much coverage for the cuts to be plausible as anything but manipulation.
The larger cast does allow for some interesting dynamics that weren’t possible with only three people, but they start to fragment even further into archetypes rather than developed arcs. The conflict comes easier between two mismatched groups, but we lose the development of tension and strife in a team that started out unified. And there’s the germ of some interesting body horror, but it never really gets a chance to develop.
But even with a few incremental improvements there’s still nothing substantial here. It’s another glorified campfire story that has the capacity to startle, but never to really scare.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.