It’s clear right from the beginning that the cast of Blair Witch haven’t seen The Blair Witch Project. As a result, they make the exact same mistakes as the doomed characters in the earlier film.
Strike that. They do see the ending online, thanks to a couple of rednecks who post it on YouTube. In no way, however, does watching this footage discourage them at all from what they’re about to do.
The fate of Heather Donahue’s character has long been an obsession of her paramedic brother, James (James Allen McCune). Because her body was never found, he dumbly believes there’s still a chance she’s lost somewhere in the seemingly vast Black Hills Forest. He was only four when she decided to make a documentary about the mysterious Blair Witch of Maryland. Now a grown man, he foolishly decides to conduct a search party of his own. The authorities were unable to locate her and her two fellow crew members, along with numerous other victims over the centuries.
His longtime pal, Peter (Brandon Scott), convinces mutual friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who’s making a documentary of her own, to come with them and cover the search. Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid), tags along, as well.
Rewriting history a bit, we learn that the footage of Heather’s demise was discovered by Lane (Wes Robinson who looks like the love child of Miles Teller and Sean Penn) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry), not law enforcement. The foursome make a stop at their house before hitting the forest to find out where exactly they made their discovery. Curious themselves, Lane & his gal, who have lived in Maryland their entire lives, won’t divulge the location unless they get to join the party. Peter, a black man, isn’t too thrilled with the idea especially after spotting the couple’s Confederate flag proudly displayed in their living room.
Despite clearly seeing someone else in the Heather video, James’s friends are highly skeptical of this Blair Witch business. As Lane and Talia take them deep into Black Hills, they offer a little background. One such story makes Peter laugh out loud. Guess who the witch kills first.
As they make their way through a cold creek, Ashley steps on a piece of glass. But even after her foot gets the first aid treatment, the cut never heals (in fact, it spreads up her leg) and she eventually falls ill. After spending the night in their makeshift camp site, they awaken to discover those mysterious branch symbols from the first film and that it’s 2 p.m. Freaked out, they all decide to leave, the one and only sensible decision they make.
But once Lane confesses that he and his gal pal made the symbols themselves, Heather’s brother and his friends suddenly aren’t so scared anymore and stupidly decide to go back. The rednecks decide to bolt on their own.
But, of course, once you enter Black Hills Forest, you can never leave (unless you’re law enforcement or discover raw footage, apparently). The original foursome learn this the hard way when they make a second attempt to leave. Their hours of walking bring them right back to the camp site. Eventually, the sun stops coming up.
A starved, fatigued Lane and his equally starved, fatigued girlfriend suddenly return at one point claiming they’ve been wandering around the forest completely lost for almost a week. (It’s only been a day.) Inevitably, the gang gets separated as one by one they disappear into nothingness.
Like The Blair Witch Project, all roads lead to the witch’s decrepit abode, the same place Heather discovered before she went missing. (On a dark and stormy night, it curiously materializes out of nowhere.) In fact, Lisa relives part of the original’s ending shot for shot before literally bumping into Heather’s brother who runs in first hoping to somehow find his sister in this rundown, wooden labyrinth.
Blair Witch is the third and hopefully final chapter of this disappointing series. The overrated 1999 original was followed by a conventional dud called Book Of Shadows in 2000. It’s clear the only reason we have number three nearly 20 years later is because the found footage horror genre, which The Blair Witch Project helped popularize, has long since gone mainstream mostly thanks to Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield.
With the notable exceptions of The Visit and The Last Exorcism, I have not been a chief supporter of these types of films. They’re often contrived, not terribly scary and stupid. Blair Witch very much resembles that remark.
Yes, the technology has advanced quite a bit since the original. Instead of just camcorders and walkie talkies, this time around we also get earcams with GPS and even a drone that predictably gets stuck in a tree. What we don’t get are interesting, intelligent characters and a clever story.
The movie isn’t as bad as it could’ve been because of a welcome lack of gore and the effective art direction. But by God, how many false jump scares do we need to endure? How many shaky, POV shots? In order to have this ill-fated trip to the forest take place, the characters have to be mostly ignorant about the events of The Blair Witch Project. If they do have a strong sense of history, we have no movie. Smart people wouldn’t set foot in Black Hills.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 16, 2017