There was once an independent horror film that included an ending so chilling, I couldn’t rewatch it*. After that, a sequel was born that was so spiritually divorced – so fundamentally terrible – that again, I swore I would never rewatch it. So much surrounding The Blair Witch seemed to embody trauma…something to be remembered and understood, but not revisited. Those woods are haunted, so few make it out alive. So if we are able to somehow escape them, why would we ever want to go back?
It’s been twenty years since Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Josh Leonard vanished in the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. Over that time, Heather’s younger brother James (James Allen McCune) has begun to have his doubts that his sister died in that strange house. He’s watched video after video ever since the discovery of “The Blair Witch Project” and has finally caught a glimpse of what he believes to be Heather in a brand new YouTube video uploaded from a tape found in those very same woods.
When he shows the footage to his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), she begins to film James and his quest to discover the origin of the footage. Together they are joined by their friends Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) as they seek out the Burkittsville locals who uploaded the footage – a young pair of oddballs named Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry).
Lane and Talia take the team out into the very same woods where Heather, Michael, and Josh went missing all those years ago. James is hoping to find the mysterious house where Heather went missing, though no one who searched for Heather and her friends in the wake of their disappearance ever found it. After Lane and Talia take Josh and his friends to the lightning-struck tree they found the tape in, the group of six set-up camp for the night.
That’s when things take a turn for the strange…
Like the last time a group of pilgrims to wander into these woods, the group begins to hear noises after dark. They wake-up to a familiar totem hanging from the trees. They soon get lost and cannot understand why the very fabric of logic itself seems to be unravelling.
After James and his friends realize Lane is partially to blame for the occurrences that are freaking them out, they send the pair off in the opposite direction.
It doesn’t do much good though. These woods find more and more ways to terrify the trespassers…and slowly, but surely, every member of the group begins to believe that there might just be such thing as a witch in the woods.
Without getting too spoilerific, BLAIR WITCH employs a great device that works in deeper darkness and confusion surrounding one’s sense of time. If nothing else, the film deserves credit for ramping up two tremendously frightening elements. If you’ve ever woken-up after a nap when the days are short, and not known whether that “7:20” staring back at you on the clock face means AM or PM, you know how freakishly disorienting Dyschronometria can be. Likewise the pitch blackness that one only ever feel when they get well away from human contact.
These are the sorts of things that can make camping creepy…these are the sorts of things that can make one’s imagination play tricks on them. The mere suggestion that they are both under the whims of some supernatural force make for a pretty cool expansion of what was once a straight-forward tale, and likewise a pretty frightening walk down a familiar path.
It is absolutely impossible to bring audiences back to the summer of 1999…to that first foray into the woods. So few nowadays would believe that there was once actual confusion over a film’s authenticity. Fewer still could sit down in front of a found footage movie and not think about the six dozen movies that have employed that very gimmick to often-low returns. One might as well try to replace their SONY Discman and ask that cute girl what her ICQ handle is.
For a moment or two though, BLAIR WITCH is able to bring some of us back in time. It pulls several of the same tricks again, shoves us into that freaky cottage and bolts the door shut behind us. It remembers just how powerful the dark of a cinema can be in scaring those who dare to gather, and how many tricks our mind can play on us when we hear something go bump in the night. It’s the film’s greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness. Again, we are frozen in our seats…again, we feel that prickle on the backs of our necks when we hear footsteps coming from behind. Again, again, again…but never for the first time.
That’s the burden every filmgoer who wanders back into the Burkittsville Woods has to bear. Have they wandered back into the brush knowing how much it frightened them the first time? Have they wandered off the trail having heard that something even scarier awaits for those who dare to return? Or are they going for the first time having heard tales of how dark and frightening this forest is?
The things that scare us the most are the things that prevent us from letting our brain do its job and applying rational thought. If we let BLAIR WITCH have at our senses and our nerve centres, it does what we wants it to do. However, the moment we start to think…nothing we see seems nearly as scary as it should be.
Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on BLAIR WITCH.
* That ending that scared me so badly? It’s shown again in this movie. I HAD to rewatch it, whether I wanted to or not. Thanks for that Mister Wingard