Rating 1/5 (for Blair Witch 2016)
4/5 (for The Blair Witch Project 1999)
“I see why you like this video camera so much. It’s not quite reality. It’s totally like a filtered reality man. It’s like you can pretend everything is not quite the way it is.”
I enjoyed The Blair Witch Project. It’s a film that I find solid to this day. I did not enjoy this new one. Rather than go into too much detail about just that film itself, I’m just going to compare the two, and mention why it is exactly that the first one is superior in every way to the new film. I’ll be going by the points below, stating how the reboot/sequel utilized them, and then comparing it to the 1999 film.
“I don’t wanna go cheesy, I want to really avoid any cheese. I want to present this in as straightforward a way as possible. And I think the legend is unsettling enough.”
1.) The camera movement
Jesus Christ. No one shoots footage like this! No one! By no one I mean amateurs who go around filming stuff unprofessionally. I’m not talking about the scenes where they’re running around like maniacs, I’m talking about the more quiet calm moments. They don’t do that zooming in and out randomly an various subjects, both animate and inanimate. Granted, in the first film, they tend to shoot some bits of footage a little too good without much shaking, even during the finale when they’re going about the cabin, but I’ll take that over what the hell they did in this film.
Heavy footstep sounds, like they are straight out of the Slenderman game. I’m honestly not so sure the original film utilized footsteps to this extent. It sounds like a giant troll rumbling around the forest. A great big tremendous inhuman force. Not exactly as subtle as in the first film, which pretty much sums up everything about this reboot (I refuse to call it a sequel for reasons I will give below). Nothing is subtle about this film. Every opportunity it can, it does jump scares, and makes some loud bang sound whenever that happens, whether it’s an actual shriek from the witch or some other supernatural force (the first film kept the witch invisible from an audio standpoint), to the whole, “Whoah, hey, it’s just me, I just decided to sneak up behind you and scare the ever loving shit out of you rather than respond to you calling my name because that’s what rational people would do in a situation like this,” sort of jump scare. It’s stupid.
Now in the original film when it came to the intriguing sounds, they tended to be faint and distant. That added to the creepiness of the environment. And the film took its time making the dread grow with each passing night, from cracks in the distance, to the sounds of children that grew closer, to the sounds of one of their friends crying out in the distance. There was no “BOOM! Did I scare you?” moments. It did what any respectable horror film would do, it gets under your skin and stays there. As opposed to the jump scare sounds which go for immediate payoff and have no lingering effect or build up as a result. Unless a few seconds of buildup is good enough for you, but it shouldn’t be.
Ok, so neither film is supposed to look that great since they’re supposed to be shot by amateurs with average (at the time) film gear. In the original, it’s just typical VHS handheld devices with, like 240p quality, maybe 360 at best. In this one, it’s 360p minimum, 720 at best. And it’s all in color, as opposed to the first film where 1 camera was in color, the other was black and white. Not only that, but they use first-person gear by way of mini-cameras that hook onto the ear, normal cameras, and a drone that never really does anything useful in the film.
Unlike the first film, there’s some definite special effects going on in the reboot. Tents go flying in the air, seeds grow roots inside of a leg (which doesn’t seem to serve any purpose in the long-run), glimpses of the witch, people disappearing in rooms, and other such tricks. It all becomes like a horror maze at Knott’s Scary Farm, with the same short term jump scares.
In the original film, everything seemed played out naturally, at first anyway. They go into the woods, they see some rock mounds, then the creep factor goes up a notch when they see the infamous stick people hanging around a bunch of trees, like they’ve stumbled upon souls that are trapped in the forest. Then there’s the handprints on the walls in the house.
New film, I don’t recall there being rock mounds, but there were stick figures (put out there much more bluntly), tents flying, cuts bulging, a tree falling, figures running within the house and not being there when a character turned the corner, a more unnatural looking house from the inside (it looks nothing like the house in the original film by the way), crawling within a tunnel that just so happens to be there for seemingly no reason at all, being jerked off camera, pounding against a door and splinters flying, and other such stuff. Again, subtle creepiness vs. in your face scares.
The new film, I just couldn’t get into the pacing all that much. Up until the second night in the woods, events happened quickly, but they weren’t interesting. It starts with footage recovered, where one of the main protagonists is like, “Hey, that’s my sister!” which is bullshit because nothing in the original film looked anything like that footage, but I guess that get’s explained away in a nonsensical fashion later on, which I’ll get to. They quickly gather camera gear, other members, drink at a nightclub, go into the woods, try to go out of the woods but circumstances have them go back to their old campsite. After that, the film finally gets interesting with the stick figures showing up, new plot developments that gives the woods a more supernatural twist that the first film didn’t do at all, the jump scares increase exponentially, some voodoo doll shit happens, they try to sleep it off but can’t, they make it to the cabin in the woods where it turns into a haunted house flick where everything starts happening more frantically, and so on.
So, in keeping with the theme that’s been running so far, the reboot tries to get things done faster which removes the whole creeping dread element. The original, on the other hand, took its time setting things up before the shit hit the fan. They get food and supplies, talk to people around town to get a buildup for the legend of the blair witch and the local town tales, which sets up for things that will happen later, they go into the forest with one uneventful day and night, they discover a few things on the later day, weird stuff happens on the second night, and it progresses from their, slowly getting worse and worse over the course of several days and nights. The remake only took place over the course of 2 days and nights (well 3 nights if you count the supernatural element). Both films are close to the same length, and yet the pacing of the original made for a more investing film in my opinion because of the slow buildup and more natural character interaction. The reboot, I didn’t really know or give a shit about any of the characters. No character was given much background in either film, but the original at least allowed the characters to clearly show their personality traits to make them more defined, while the reboot forced them into stereotypes and common caricatures that go off a checklist of what to expect of roles in films like this. One could argue that this is because there are 6 main people in the reboot as opposed to 3 in the original, but consider the John Carpenter version of The Thing, which had more players involved than this film, and yet gave each of them enough time to let their personalities shine through and give them personality, without succumbing to 2-dimensional stereotypes. That film was longer, but maybe Blair Witch should’ve been too, even though I doubt the talent was there in the first place to make the characters interesting at all.
5.) Lore Building
The first film built up quite a lot of lore, especially during the first 15 minutes. Burkittsville, Maryland, once known as Blair, Maryland, has legends of what happened at Coffin Rock, a location in the woods. Stories of how 7 children disappeared in the 1940s, and of how Mr. Pyer killed them in his home up in the mountain, throwing a kid in the corner so he wouldn’t look at him, because he couldn’t stand them looking at him, while he killed the others before finally killing that corner kid. Others said it was because the woods were haunted that the children were found dead in the forest, or disappeared. Stories of people coming across the Blair Witch, one claiming to have seen her and that she touched her arm, and was covered in black hair all over her body (a description that is ignored in the new film). Then there’s the tail of 5 men bound from their hands to each other’s ankles, gutted with their entrails hanging out, and writings carved into their backs and left to die upon the creek at Coffin Rock. Different stories from different people. But then things get mysterious and interesting when the 3 main characters find 7 stone mounds (7 missing children), hear sounds of children playing in the darkness, find 3 piles on a later day (1 for each of them), one goes missing after disturbing one of the 7 mounds, the stick people in the woods, the handprints in the house, and one of them standing in the corner during the final moments of the film.
The new film, I wouldn’t say it builds upon things so much as changes them and takes liberties with the story. No rock mounds, none of them get disturbed by anyone. No children. No buildup by the local townsfolk. There’s word on how a search party looked for the 3 from the first film, and only recovered the tapes, and found no house in the woods. Other than that, the stick figures appear again, only hanging directly over the party’s tents overnight, indicating that their souls are already trapped in the woods for some reason. And time becomes meaningless. Sometimes the sun never comes up even when it should. Other times days will pass for some, while only hours pass for others. There’s some pointless thing about a seed taking root and growing within one person somehow someway that doesn’t make a lot of sense even within the context of this film. We see glimpses of the blair witch, learn that she can break people’s wills and get them to do her bidding, and she will play sound tricks on you. But then we learn that standing in a corner and not looking at her protects you from her, because she will only take you if you see her. This completely goes against the reason for the corner standing in the first film. And lastly, there’s this thing on how the footage shown at the beginning of the film that led them to the house was their own footage that they shot during the finale of the movie all along. It’s stupid. Honestly, it just seems like a lot of bullshit to me that belongs in a different film that could build up it’s own lore. This film should’ve kept the title The Woods, and take any mention of The Blair Witch out of its title and out of the movie.
6.) Black guy dies first
That’s not a comparison to the first film, it just gives me an excuse to use this gif:
There’s a good Scooby Doo parody of The Blair Witch Project (a couple different versions with an alternate ending) made in the same year this film got released, and it’s frikkin brilliant:
God I loved the 90s.
Oh, and lastly, there’s something else I can recommend over Blair Witch that really goes to show what sort of talent and potential is left in the found footage genre, and can really scare the hell out of you, even without audio at certain points. Marble Hornets. It’s basically a found footage series based upon Slender Man, a true contender for Blair Witch inspired mythology if I ever saw one. I found it truly unnerving, and a hell of a lot better than Blair Witch (2016). This is how you do found footage (along with the 1999 Blair Witch Project).
Youtube link to Entry #0 (Introduction).