Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Blair Witch

Towards the end of summer in 1999, a phenomenon hit theaters that featured a very crafty experiment, which became a horror and science fiction staple-subgenre of many movies to come.  The film I’m speaking of is The Blair Witch Project and it brought forth the popularity of the found footage category, becoming a press-stud of horror movies that continues to this day.  Sure, there are quite a few films that predate it which used the same type of classification, like Cannibal Holocaust or The Last Broadcast (which was released a year prior).  But 1999, by all intentions, should be considered the manifestation of the found footage subgenre.
Now, timing had a lot to do with the fame and reputation the film had gained.  In 1999, not everybody had a computer or easy access to the internet, not to mention that it wasn’t as expansive as it is today.  The directors of the film—Daniel Myrick and Eduardo S├ínchez—used that to their advantage, knowing that they could use it to blow up the film and get the word out by creating a little fake backstory, getting the word out there that this was a true story and the last remaining days and hours of these victims were captured on film that had been recovered as featured in this movie.  Most people believed they were watching a documented film, seeing a snuff flick, witnessing the demise of these three kids…and it was brilliant.  The film—made for around $60,000—reaped nearly $250,000,000 in the box office!  Recalling the release of this film, so many people told me about how frightening it was and how these kids in the film were real people that had gone missing…I admit, I’d believed the story and thought it fascinating, so I was very excited to see it.  However, days before going to see the film, I’d heard it was fake…but it wasn’t a deterrent in the least.
All things considered, I’d hazard a guess to say that this technique wouldn’t work today.  Too many people have technology right at their fingertips…if it was tried today, The Blair Witch Project wouldn’t work...but that’s just a changing of the times…and, of course, my opinion.
One thing that had always bothered me is that the filmmakers never tried to make a direct sequel to the 1999 film to follow up on the made-up story.  Sure, a sequel was released called Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, but that story just dismissed the 1999 film as fiction, using the movie-within-the-movie method; it wasn’t a good film, seemed pretty confusing at times, and is very forgettable.  Now, however, 18 years later, it was finally decided to make a direct sequel to that first film…but before I get into it, let me break down the synopsis of…Blair Witch.
After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James (James Allen McCune ) and a group of friends—Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott)—head to the forest near the town of Burkittsville.  On the way there, they stop to see the guy who had found the video to get directions to the whereabouts of where he had discovered it.  But the local named Lane (Wes Robinson), gives the condition that he and his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry), must go with them or he won’t give the location.  James agrees and the group soon finds out about the ominous legend of the Blair Witch.
Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard (both of VHS and You’re Next fame), they brought forth a more frightening film than we’d seen in the original.  Yet, the only reason this film can be considered a sequel is because of the reason the group of kids decide to go into the woods—to find his sister Heather, one of the three kids from the original movie.  That’s it…that’s the only tie to the first film.
Now, I’d read that one difference this film has from the original is that it’s totally scripted, meaning the words written on page are what we’re getting from the actors in this flick, and it shows.  The original had quite a bit of realism and that’s because the directors basically told the three kids to go into the woods and improvise their discussions, debates, and dialogues (sorry for the alliteration) with each other.  They were left to their devices at hand while the directors set up situations ahead of time for which the actors would react.  Here, in Blair Witch, you can tell the dialogue was written ahead of time and it really feels like you’re watching a made up movie in comparison.  For example, the surplus of battery power is emphasized quite a bit.  Even my wife—who doesn’t enjoy horror movies and usually reads a book off to the side when I’m watching one—caught that bit of dialogue in this film and called it out right away.
To show off how ahead the world has gotten in technology, the devices used in this new film are way more advanced.  Instead of just a camcorder and camera with film, each friend has a small camera fitted to the side of their heads much like Blue Toothes, they have multiple memory cards to continuously switch them out, and they also have a drone that can hover around to help them get a sense of their direction within the woods.
What’s different about this film compared to its predecessor?  There are some nice special effects that maybe take up a few frames of film here and there with some ideas that have a creep factor of ten.  Will you get to see a witch this time?  I think so…you get to see something, but it’s so quick and shaky that you really don’t know what you’re seeing.  I think it may have been explored in the first film, but in Blair Witch time is messed with and it definitely conveys a sense of hopelessness for the characters.  It even goes as far as dividing some of them, giving some a sense of minutes passing, with others having weeks passing—I thought that was well done.
What’s the same?  Just about everything else.  I mean, you have a group of kids going into the woods and documenting everything with video, they get lost and go in circles, they’re being terrorized by some unseen force, and they end up exactly the same way as the kids in the original film…in the same place and in the same manner.  I would’ve liked some resolution or maybe see the kids get the upper hand on the witch or at least a bit of fight…not the exact same outcome.  I felt it was a bit of a cheat.
If there’s anything that was left with me after viewing this was one plot thread that really never amounted to anything and that was when one of the girls, Ashley, had gotten a big gash on the bottom of her foot when they had to remove their shoes and socks to cross a creek.  After it was bandaged up and the girl regained the ability to keep moving, later we see that she’s wracked with pain every few steps and we hear the sound of some strange crack or something when she uses that foot.  Late in the film, we see the boyfriend unwrapping the foot to check it out and sees it’s clearly infected.  But a quick shot of this shows the wound twitching like there’s some sort of animation going on.  The implication is that the witch had something to do with it, that the girl is becoming infected with some sort of paranormal disease, even seeming like she’s turning into a zombie or something.  However, it all goes nowhere and her demise has nothing to do with the foot’s ailment…in fact, she seems to regain a bit of energy later in the film as she’s able to run and climb a tree.  Nonetheless, this whole plot point went nowhere and left me confused.
Anyway…my final “bit” on Blair Witch?
As a standalone movie, the story is frightening and well done.  The actors and actresses (just a small ensemble of six characters) perform their parts well, giving us a sense of believability even though their dialogue is obviously formulated ahead of time, but the bottom line is that they’re all likable and you’ll end up caring what happens to all of them.   For all intents and purposes, this is a remake of the original film, made a bit better and obviously with a slightly bigger budget.  The new viewers—who’ve never seen the original or who’d thought it was boring—will enjoy this flick; the fans of the original will see it for what it is—a complete reboot of the franchise that’s giving us the same situation and the same (spoiler alert) outcome.  But…it’s still entertaining, will give you some good scares, and it’ll definitely make you think twice about camping out in the woods…again.  I recommend it.
Thanks for reading!
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