I suppose the harshest thing you could say about Blair Witch is that it’s just another horror movie. The Blair Witch Project is one of the great films. The clumsily titled Blair Witch 2 – Book of Shadows is an ambitious mess. Blair Witch is a horror movie, not great, not awful, but as an instalment in the Blair Witch franchise (how weird is that to say, ‘Blair Witch franchise’) its greatest crime is being unremarkable. Which is a shame coming from writer/director team Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard as their previous work has showed a great deal of invention and promise.
We once again follow a young group of students into the Burkittsville woods as they attempt to document the existence of the fabled Blair Witch. This time our protagonist is James Donahue (James Allen McCune) the younger brother of the original film’s Heather who is determined to find some clue as to what caused his sister’s mysterious disappearance. Joined by amateur documentarian Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a couple of friends and untrustworthy locals they set out on a fated journey into the woods.
I must say, I do like the series’ tradition of making its character’s the worst documentarians possible. Even more so than in the original, this team’s plan is to strap cameras to themselves and record every possible moment. There’s sort of a not quite fully explored subtext here about low budget filmmaking. These characters have access to far more equipment than those in the originals: body mounted; night-vision security; even drone mounted cameras. A generous estimation in some scenes is that there may be as many as seven or eight cameras rolling at once. Oftentimes it’s too many, everything feels a little manufactured and the technology available to the filmmakers is rarely used in an effective way. Most disappointingly the drone, which is cool but does nothing for the film as a whole.
Unfortunately, this happens with a few too many threads throughout the film. A possible possession never quite reaches fruition. The intentions and character of the two locals is frustratingly breezed over. Incidents which are treated with utmost importance at the time of their taking place are later forgotten. There’s also a twist. Smarter people than I may see it coming, or maybe I just came down with a bad case of the stupids while watching. But as to the meaning of the thing, aside from being some weird gotcha, I cannot fathom.
It all seems to be a case of the film’s identity as a horror movie. Once action starts taking place, which takes a little too long, things move fast. They get big and bad and threatening. This plays well into Wingard and Barrett’s strengths, they excel at creating sequences. An example, which was annoyingly spoiled by the trailer, is a character’s traversal through some narrow underground tunnels. In moments such as these, wherein characters are tasked with completing clear objectives the film pops. Those sequences stick with me, but the surrounding structure too often falls fallow.
The Blair Witch Project is kinda unique among horror movies. Most are about people trying desperately not to die, The Blair Witch Project is about characters accepting they will. Maybe calling it Blair Witch was a mistake. It’s an average movie but it invites distinctly unaverage comparisons. In ten years, when another cynically ill-advised attempt is made to revive this ‘franchise’ we can have the same conversation again.