Film review: ‘Blair Witch’ fails to improve on the original’s minimalism

Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry hunt the Blair Witch.

Two and a half stars

Blair Witch James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid. Directed by Adam Wingard. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

Despite its commercial success and enormous influence on modern horror movies (roughly half of which now purport to be found footage), The Blair Witch Project frequently disappoints those who go into it expecting to be scared out of their wits. At the time of the film’s heavily hyped 1999 release, many frustrated viewers complained that “nothing happens,” lamenting the absence of something more concretely terrifying than some hanging twigs and piles of rocks. Blair Witch, a new, very belated sequel (which wisely ignores the existence of 2000’s truly dismal Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), might be just what these folks are looking for, though fans of Project’s psychological anxiety will likely turn up their noses. Ostensibly a continuation of the story, this trip into the woods plays more like a straight remake—but one that supplies the traditional frights and jolts that the original deliberately withheld.

In the first of many concessions to the marketplace, Blair Witch introduces us to the much younger brother of Heather Donahue, the young woman who went missing in the first film. (Realistically, this guy should be at least in his mid-30s by now, but horror-film characters, for demographically obvious reasons, are virtually always closer to 20.) James (James Allen McCune) has spent two decades wondering whether Heather might still be alive, and his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), has chosen to make his obsession the focus of a documentary she’s making for one of her classes. Friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) come along for moral support, and the quartet is subsequently joined by another couple, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who found additional video footage in the woods that James believes includes an obscure glimpse of a woman who could be Heather.

Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) and his regular writing partner, Simon Barrett, have doubled virtually everything: the number of hikers, the number of cameras (everyone now wears Bluetooth-style devices clipped to their ears, which eliminates the standard question about why people fleeing for their lives would continue filming), the volume on the sound mix, etc. What made The Blair Witch Project special, though, was its total commitment to its student-film premise—it was unnerving precisely because it didn’t look like a real movie. Blair Witch, by contrast, simulates amateurishness in the same highly professional manner as countless Blair Witch rip-offs before it. What was once revolutionary has become cozily familiar, and while the film’s many jump scares and occasional gross-out moments will elicit shrieks, there’s no chance of anyone experiencing any lingering unease. The original film inspired the imagination. This one, like most modern horror sequels, only dulls it.

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