Saturday, September 17, 2016

Movie Review #490: "Blair Witch" (2016)

Movie"Blair Witch"
Director: Adam Wingard
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
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Heather Donahue's brother James (James Allen McCune)
 and his friends head out into the Black Hills Woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland to find out what happened to his sister 17 years ago and to see if she could possibly still be alive.

We were a hell of a lot more excited for "Blair Witch" back when it was called "The Woods."

"Blair Witch" is directed by Adam Wingard and is written by Simon Barrett. The pair have worked together in the past on films like "You're Next" and "The Guest," both of which are excellent. This movie is a direct sequel to the 1999 film "The Blair Witch Project," ignoring "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" entirely (and for good reason). It stars James Allen McCune as James Donahue, the little brother of Heather Donahue, who disappeared in the woods of the Black Hills forest 17 years ago. Since no trace of her was ever found, James and his friends plan on taking a trip to Burkittsville so they can hike into the woods to look for evidence of what really might have happened to her. Of course, one of his friends wants to document the whole thing for her school project, but cameras and technology have come a long way since 1999. In true and updated fashion, Lisa, played by Callie Hernandez, has a ton of fancy gadgets like cameras integrated into what look like a bluetooth-style earpieces, as well as a remote control drone, some walkie talkies, and even a cool and nifty GPS. Needless to say, this group came prepared. However, all of the preparation and gadgets in the world could not prepare them for what they would face looking for James' sister.

It has been well documented that we weren't the biggest fans of "The Blair Witch Project." We recognize it for the cultural phenomenon it was/is and have to give it props for its brilliant marketing campaign that led to record-setting box office numbers. It seems like those involved behind the scenes of "Blair Witch" tried to do another kind of clever marketing by first introduced the film as "The Woods." We can distinctly remember being excited about the trailer for "The Woods," and just a few days later at San Diego Comic-Con, our hopes for the film were dashed upon the reveal that instead of an entirely different movie, it was, in fact, a top secret "Blair Witch" sequel. This revelation wound up having an opposite effect for us as it diminished our interest in it. A phenomenon like "The Blair Witch Project" is so hard to revisit decades later, especially considering it doesn't really stand on its own merits.

The first portion of "Blair Witch" winds up being a virtual rehash of its predecessor almost beat for beat. The group heads into the woods, hears noises, there is a lot of screaming, tons of running, dozens of shots of trees, feet, rocks, sticks, and of course, vomitous camera shaking. If you were okay with the amount of all of this stuff from the first movie, be prepared for up to 50% more of it here. This first half is pretty poorly paced and really drags quite a bit. It takes a while for everything to get going as we watch our protagonists try out all of their high-tech gear, meet the couple who found footage of James's sister in the woods and uploaded it to the internet, and sort of get to know our characters without actually having to care about them. We were even yawning a bit during the first two acts. Add an exorbitant amount of jump scares into the mix, and we found ourselves to be borderline annoyed with the state of things. Characters constantly and inexplicable sneak up on each other while making a loud noise IN THE WOODS WHERE ONE OF THE FAMILY MEMBERS OF ONE OF THEIR FRIENDS DIED. Seems legit! As the film crawls towards its third act, things start to ramp up tension-wise as there are a couple of minor yet effective scenes of gore, one that is downright nauseating to watch unfold. This is a compliment when it comes to horror, so no harm meant there. Finally, when the third act actually arrives, all hell breaks lose. Things get chaotic and there are real genuine moments of terror to creep out even the hippest horror fans.

Unfortunately, despite a strong finale, "Blair Witch" is just too slow and the entire thing is almost completely dull because of the early portions of the film, which rely on an overabundance of jump scares and contain too much fiddling with technology to allow for any true build-up. It also lacks anything new, which drags down the film overall, making it just another mediocre found-footage film to add to the overexposed franchise.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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