When the trailer initially dropped for director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett‘s new film The Woods, I knew there was no goddamned way I was watching it! The fact that they made a movie at all was enough to get my little butt in the theater, so I tried to hold on to the mystery as long as I could. Weeks later at Comic-Con, the sneak preview of the film revealed the real title was Blair Witch, like the lady who got a whole dang project named after her in The Blair Witch Project. Whoa! Those sneaky guys fooled us! Considering the original film and its marketing campaigns was one of the most mysterious and engaging theatrical experiences of the last 20 years, and since I wasn’t really a fan of the wackadoo Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, I had no goddamn idea what to expect! Well, I saw it, and now I have ideas of what I saw, and that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Well, let’s get to it!
My favorite scene was when they thought it was raining, but they looked up and the Blair Witch herself was this giant that was just pissing all over everybody.
Upon the discovery of footage supposedly from the Burkittsville woods, James (James Allen McCune) recruits his documentary film student buddy Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a couple other pals to explore the origins of the footage. Why would James act silly like this? Because his sister Heather is the documentary filmmaker from the first film! I’m already spooked! Armed to the teeth with the latest in video recording tech, the pals head into the woods in hopes of tracking down the whereabouts of James’ sister, but spooky things start happening. I don’t know, that’s enough of a synopsis, right? You remember the first movie, don’t you? A witch was killed in the woods by local townspeople and now the woods are haunted? Who cares.
And THAT’S why you don’t run through the woods with a bunch of stickmen dangling from branches!
If you like watching horror movies with people getting spooked in the woods by scary noises and bizarre events happening, you will like this movie. The scares are SUPER effective, the characters are engaging and mostly likable, and the final act is bananas and a complete assault on the senses. The intensity of frights organically heightens throughout the film to an incredibly abrasive finale where the viewer has no fucking clue what will happen, much like what makes the Evil Dead films so compelling. Just straight up nightmare logic where the found footage filmmaking techniques put you right in the passenger seat, only able to watch and not able to turn away. I’d compare this to a rollercoaster ride, but that sounds cliché, so if this were an amusement park ride, it’d probably be called “The Plummet into the Unending, Nightmarish Hellscape.” That ride would sell a lot of tickets, right?
You stay in that corner until and think about what you’ve done!
BLAH BLAH BLAH BUT HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE OTHER TWO FILMS FART FART FART? First of all, eat shit. It’s actually okay to just watch a movie, even a sequel, and form an opinion on its own merits. However, because so much of the discussion about Blair Witch stems from how it compares to the last two films, let’s fucking get into it. I still highly enjoy The Blair Witch Project, even though I’ve always known it’s been fake (right)? It’s incredibly subtle with its scares, and the amateurish feel of it allows you to suspend your disbelief. In fact, I think it’s much more successful on home video than it is as a theatrical release, because viewers have to actively try to listen to see if they’re hearing what the characters in the film are experiencing. Unless you were alive when Cannibal Holocaust came out, most audiences in 1999 had never been told that a horror movie they could see in theaters was full of actual horrors, and not stuff that was staged. I’d even argue that all viral film marketing since the original film’s release has been an attempt to recreate how successful that campaign was, and even though most theatrical audiences knew it was all bullshit, having even a sliver of doubt about the fictional events among the smallest minority of theatergoers still resulted in some really interesting conversations about fact vs. fiction and consuming the tragedy of others’ as entertainment. The original film is flawed, but those imperfections make the experience more savory.
Goths be gothin’!
A sequel typically either has to continue mythology, follow the characters from the previous film’s journeys, or recreate the beats of the previous film but heighten them in a compelling way, sometimes all of the above. Considering the fates of the characters from the original, this sequel couldn’t really follow them. The success of the scares in the first film come from their subtleties, so should Blair Witch have been…more subtle? Could they have been amped up slightly from subtle to…regular scares? These both sound like bad choices, so I’m glad Wingard cranked the scares all the way up. In fact, the movie reminded me of the Radio Silence segment from V/H/S, which also featured a gradually building tension that crescendoed with a CGI-enhanced bonkers finale. The previous sequel tried to explore the mythology of the first film, but for me, felt like a total failure. I know there are camps who swear by Book of Shadows, but it isn’t at all my thing, so it’s obvious why this film steered cleared up trying to expand upon the original film’s mythology as to not run into the same pitfalls.
Screw you, Book of Shadows, this sequel has DOUBLE the quasi-goth characters!
So where does that leave us? The Blair Witch Project is an incredibly unique experience, both for a horror movie and all of the surrounding culture of movies in general whose magic could never be recreated. However, it was pretty cool that by calling this film “The Woods,” the anticipation/expectations were lowered than if it was, “New Blair Witch movie in the works, check out this teaser poster for the teaser trailer!” Much like the Halloween franchise, I like to imagine an alternate world where this film followed the surprise success of the original shortly after the original’s release, closed the door on the found footage/kids lost in the woods aspect of the franchise, and then Book of Shadows could have explored a larger mythology without having to directly tie into the previous two films. There are definitely elements of the original film’s mythology (like implying what happened with Rustin Parr and why he made children face the corner) that pop up throughout the film for diehard fans of the original, but Blair Witch is a highly entertaining journey into the woods that reminds you that even the most sophisticated of technology is no match for a good old fashioned shithead of a witch.
Wolfman Moon Scale