★★★★★ – Blair Witch is a new standard for found footage horror. Successfully entwining a solid narrative, horrifying visuals, and mastering the concept of ‘less is more’ – this year’s ‘evil in the woods’ is the most frightening yet.
Wingard and Barrett come to the franchise with a host of excellent collaborations already in place. The slasher-hit You’re Next, and fan favourites A Horrible Way to Die and The Guest inspired great excitement that the duo would be taking the helm on this risky throw-back, bringing the grandmother of found footage horror to modern screens. The excitement was well judged – as the two have hurtled The Blair Witch Project into the modern dimension in a way most would have doubted possible.
When speaking of the original, many horror fans get that glassy distant look in their eye, and speak in hushed tones. It is clever, it is unique, it is not to be meddled with. We don’t speak of Book of Shadows. Wingard and Barrett have managed to painstakingly distil these qualities of the source film, whilst still standing Blair Witch up on its own two feet. By centring the storyline around a return to the woods in a logical, reasonable manner – we can dive head first into the original and enjoy its sequel with no shame. The two pair up very nicely.
Heather Donahue’s brother James (James McCune) has always wondered what happened to his sister. Disappearing into the Black Hills forest 22 years prior, video footage that hints at Heather’s last known location prompts James to investigate.
Gathering his three friends – Lisa (Callie Arlington), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reid) – the quintet set out to meet the strange couple that discovered Heather’s lost tape. Some laughs, some minor camping injuries, and some group banter later, and we’re sat around a campfire in a Maryland woods, hearing things go bump in the night. The legend goes that the Blair Witch can only take a hold of you if you spend a night in her forest, so come morning we see the last natural light of the entire film and things quickly head south. Gulp.
The magic of the 21st century really takes a hold of the entire film. Ear-mounted cameras, drones, high definition DSLRs and an assortment of other recording devices at Lisa’s disposal create the most fluid found-footage experience possible, whilst still retaining believability.
Wingard’s framing through these devices is a testament to how deeply horror can hit home – with nail biting sequences from tree scrambles to crawlspace hauling that will leave you looking through the cracks of your fingers.
The pacing of the film also optimises all these choices again, with a clear cut first, second, and third act that slithers from jovial fun into hair raising terror before you even notice it. This could be down to the perpetual night voiding all sense of timescale also though – as the witch of the woods can manipulate all sense of dimension – a wonderfully creepy addition that is hinted at throughout. Characters can get lost in the woods for days and even weeks, returning haunted and dishevelled when only a few hours have past – enforcing a lingering sense of unease whenever someone steps back into the treeline. We know they will never escape and even if they do, it could be years later: maybe Heather is still out there after all?
A return to the woods, to the rotting house in the dark, and to the witch’s domain was a bold choice to make. But it’s one that has brought a wonderful, ground-breaking film to a host of modern cinema-goers.
The Blair Witch has truly been reignited – and whilst this new addition to the line-up might not make too many bold choices, and arguably plays it pretty close to home, it does it so well that I feel it can be forgiven. Genuinely scary to the point of wanting to hide under my seat, it’s a pleasure to see it on screen and paving its own path in the horror world again, even if some of it has been seen before. New doesn’t mean good and original doesn’t mean better – especially in the contemporary world of remakes – but exceptions come to every rule.
Blair Witch is out now through Lionsgate.
This article was originally posted to The National Student.