I didn’t watch The Blair Witch Project (Sanchez & Myrick, 1999) when I was an easily scared child, nor did I watch it during my formative years in high school–that period one of my professors noted that we are all prone to the excess of horror films as we are adolescent monsters. It was one of those films I heard about constantly, but never took the plunge on, and it soon became buried underneath an avalanche of hype and unrealistic expectations of sheer terror. In the end, I watched it for the first time tired, in the middle of the night during my second year of undergrad. While I was able to maintain attention for the first two-thirds, the film never landed and I faded in and out through the film’s climactic moments. This is a way of saying that, while I respect the history of the production-something I think, for the record, is far more interesting than the final product-I’m not a big enough Blair Witch fan to consider the first hallowed ground that should never be touched.I am, however, a well-documented fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s work; You’re Next was an inventive home invasion, slasher flick while I still cannot speak enough praise for The Guest, an incredibly nuanced outing that remains one of my favorite films of the ’10s.
Given the confluence of those factors, I was incredibly open minded to the reboot Blair Witch. Leaving the theater, I had a semi-torn reaction to the film; I don’t think I fall quite in line with the overwhelmingly negative reviews the film got because it was entertaining, it moved, and it was frightening at points. There’s even a nifty device in this one whereby the woods stay dark and the characters lose all perception of time, which is disorienting and gives reason to how the film seems to progress so fast compared to the treacherous crawl of time in the original. Unlike the 1999 installment, I can’t even say there was a point in this one where I lost focus or got bored.
At the same point, I’m struggling to completely commit to it for a number of reasons; one of the reasons the duo’s prior two films stuck with me so much is that they felt so insightful about the genres they were working within. Blair Witch doesn’t feel like that to me, perhaps I’m missing something but it feels like it’s retreading the path of the original, giving itself plenty of opportunity to comment on something. For example, there’s the character’s relationship to, and dependance on technology that constantly comes up during the film starting from the introduction of the large amount of tools they’ll be entering the woods with to protect themselves; nevertheless, each character is hopelessly lost when their equipment fails them, with only a random phone alarm able to ground them in reality. Even in the climactic scene (don’t read the rest of this sentence if you don’t want a spoiler?), a piece of technology is the only thing that is able to expose the truth to Lisa, and as soon as she stops being able to use it is when she….expires. There’s also something there about the relationship of people to mythology, and how it is compounded by the setting in which one grows up. This is brought out by the dynamics in the relationship between locals and outsiders, as well as the way they try to ‘warn’ their visitors about the gravity of the situation. This, in turn brings up something about the repurposing of iconography–a note sorely missing from a film as a whole that ends up feeling more a retread than a commentary on any of these matters, or the original.
Still, I’m not going to dissuade anyone from seeing this one at some point in time, but I can’t wholeheartedly encourage the masses to go view it, which is rather disappointing. What it all comes down to is that I’d like to watch it again to see if there’s maybe something that didn’t click with all of that raw material that would better explain the just what the purpose of venturing into the woods was.