If you go down in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise
Following on from 1999's The Blair Witch Project, the new film once again reminds us that ‘safety’ and ‘woods’ are two words that don’t belong in the same sentence.I can remember seeing The Blair Witch Project at the cinema back in 1999 and at the time there was still an essence of ‘is this real?!’ which is what made it so brilliant and terrifying. I had up until that point never seen a found footage film before and thought the idea was ingenious. It was the simplicity that made the film what it was and the fact that no real answers were given away, leaving the ending vague and ambiguous that resulted in me leaving the cinema both excited and thrilled. Now, 17 years later we finally have a sequel worth talking about discounting the 2000 sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch; which was a quick follow up that the studios wanted.That first sequel didn’t have the involvement of the original film's directors and failed to continue the found footage format thus rendering it completely different and, in my opinion, a waste of time. Simply titled Blair Witch, the idea for this new film was kicking around back in 2013 when director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett were asked to create a true follow up to the 1999 hit. With both directors of the first film on board as producers this follow-up was sure to be in keeping with the overall style set up in the first film. Originally titled ‘The Woods’ the film was shot in secret and kept out of the public eye until the trailer was released during the summer.
After seeing a snippet of video footage found in the forest where his older sister, Heather, went missing James (James Allen McCune) decides to take it upon himself, with three of his friends, to go into the woods and see if his sister could really still be alive after all these years. With close friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) in charge of documenting their trip, James believes that enough preparation and technology will put them in a far better position to explore the forest and the legends it holds. Tagging along is James’s best friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) who see this as a light hearted camping trip but are more than a little bit reserved at the thought of finding Heather alive, if at all.
After tracking down the source of the video clip, an online video blogger who goes by the pseudonym Darknet666, they all venture into the woods where Heather, Josh and Mike went missing in the vague hope of finding something that the police and FBI may have missed - and it’s safe to say (and slightly clichéd) that they find more than they bargained or prepared for.
The storyline is very similar to the original film and follows the same trajectory throughout but that’s not to say it’s predictable or boring at all. There are little nods to the first film which tie them together nicely from the motel room they stay in before their excursion to flashbacks from the original film and news footage of the search for the missing trio. Technology has come on leaps and bounds since 1999 and with this in mind the group utilise everything they can get their hands on; with ear-cams, GPS tracking, walkie talkies and a camera drone the group think they have really covered all their bases. James is even a paramedic, which comes in handy when one of the group injures themselves, but despite the level of preparation things still don’t go to plan.
No amount of technology can prepare you for what lurks in the woods
Where the first film kept things on an even keel until the end, Blair Witch starts a bit earlier with the strange goings on. But it’s not overkill and the suspense and terror is really left to the final act. The director took elements from the first film and developed them a bit further here to bulk out the storyline which pretty much works but, for me, they gave away too much which is where the first film really succeeded. There are of course your typical jump scares but these are combined with some scenes of real terror; one particular scene created an abundance of claustrophobia and tension which was prolonged to enhance the effect.
Like The Blair Witch Project the cast are all relatively unknown aside from TV appearances which works to the film's advantage as there isn’t any prior type-casting to affect their characters' expectations. I didn’t find myself emotionally connecting to any of the characters, but that didn’t ruin the film at all for me as I think it was more about the atmosphere and tension created as a whole. There isn’t much character development or backstory, aside from the missing sister element, but Lisa’s character does shoot some background information for her documentary which does give some depth and history to the characters.
Despite having issues with certain parts of the ending, I enjoyed this film. It retains a lot of the essence from the first film and does explain some of the weird events that Heather and her friends experienced in the original story. It’s easy to give into big budget films laden with CGI but sometimes it’s the simpler films that have a better pay off and this is one to watch in a dark, quiet room with no distractions.
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