17 years after the release of “The Blair Witch Project” (and nearly 16 after the release of its deservedly lesser-known sequel, “Book of Shadows”), the franchise is back for another trip into the dark woods of the Black Hills Forest. Only this time, director Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “V/H/S”) brings along boringly over-the-top clichés, leaving all of the freshly-clever creativity of the original back in the car.
The first Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who mysteriously vanish while making a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local legend in the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland.
17 years later, the brother of one of the missing filmmakers, James, sees a video posted online with what appears to be his sister running through a dilapidated house in the woods.
Consumed with the idea of finding more information that could lead to the whereabouts of his sister, James gathers a group of friends to go out into those woods in hopes of finding the house and his sister.
Once the group sets up camp, however, strange things begin to occur. They wake up to earth-rattling rumbling, strange noises, and cultish symbols strung up around their tent.
Oh, and one of those friends just happens to be filming all of this for a class project, equipped with a professional digital camera, high quality ear clip-on cameras for each of her friends, and a camera attached to a drone of all things.
Said drone is emblematic of “Blair Witch’s” most glaring fault: It’s not 1999 anymore. Ideas that were new and interesting back then have been done to death by now.
In this way, the film is sleek and modern, which ironically works against the reboot. The low-budget quality of the original doesn’t translate, and it is immediately apparent that the film is a studio-driven endeavor, making it almost impossible to buy into the found-footage style and premise.
Even the shaky cam isn’t as vomit-inducingly shaky, and where’s the fun in that?
The fabrication continues with the acting. Whereas the actors in the original film were students at the time of filming, the remake sports a cast of sexy twentysomethings straight out of B horror casting heaven.
James, played by James McCune (known for his guest work on “The Walking Dead”), and Lisa, played by Hollywood up-and-comer Callie Hernandez, are likeable enough as protagonists, but their characters and their development are dreadfully dull. The film even tries to shoehorn in a nauseatingly obvious will they won’t they romance between the pair.
All of the actors do a solid job, especially given the tediously-formulaic material they’re given to work with. , and the ensemble seems to have good chemistry overall. But once again, anything the actors bring to the film is outweighed by the archetypal nature of their characters.
As a result, “Blair Witch” is as bland and uninspired as most of the other found-footage films that ripped off the original. The freshness of the original in the nineties has become increasingly played-out, predictable, and boring.
The engrossing homemade tone of the original doesn’t translate at all thanks to the over usage of CGI (the entire ending sequence is CGI, and it shows) and professional-quality cameras.
The original works and arguably remains a classic because of its emphasis on subtle, psychological horror, and its revolutionary invention of the found-footage subgenre.
A genre, which, though fresh in the nineties, has become so transparently gimmicky it seems almost impossible to do found footage well anymore.
So let’s not.
And besides, how appropriate that the found-footage genre not only begin with a “Blair Witch” film, but end with one as well.