Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch isn’t quite a franchise reboot as it is a do-over or a reworking of previous ideas used in the series’ much-hated sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
The Blair Witch mythology has always interested me. An unseen evil force existing in the heart of Burkittsville, Maryland was creepy enough, but the concept of it manipulating time and space was a premise extension that evolved the franchise from a typical ghost story to psychological horror. The “found footage” approach was not only used to give audiences a first-hand experience of this crippling fear, but it was also a filmmaking tactic to give movie goers a play-by-play of how the elusive Blair Witch attracts her prey and traps them.
The Blair Witch Project did an excellent job of setting up its pieces, but some claim Book of Shadows was a careless attempt to strike while the iron was hot and make some quick cash. Book of Shadows may have been a slight misfire in terms of depicting these aforementioned head games, but Joe Berlinger’s heart was in the right place by driving disorienting paranoia off the edge of reality. The witch ultimately controls what you see, including the light at the end of the tunnel.
With this latest addition to the dusty franchise, Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett (the team behind You’re Next and The Guest, along with segments in V/H/S and V/H/S/2) use those mind-bending scare tactics and dial them back. Their work is comparable – giving them a link to the source material – but also gives them a chance to try new things with the franchise; including tricks with modern technology and brief snippets of special effects to add more detail to the haunting lore.
Blair Witch doesn’t pander to longtime franchise followers, but there’s no denying its fan service – easter eggs are hidden throughout the film to surprise returning viewers (a homage to Heather Donahue’s snivelling close-up is handled nicely followed by a nifty “a-ha” moment by the audience). There’s also an encouraging ratio of jump scares versus atmospheric creepiness, acting as a reminder that a glut of sudden screams are not always the answer for guaranteed scares.
You’ll be able to watch Blair Witch having not seen the prior films or knowing much about the franchise’s mythology and be deeply frightened anyway, but you’ll respect the film in other ways if you’ve been obsessed with the Burkittsville legend since those first “news clippings” in ’99.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie