I just had to jinx it.
I just had to say a month ago that the best movies of 2016 were animated movies and horror movies. I just had to stand up and say that these two genres have had consistently the best movies of the year.
And then I saw Blair Witch.
To be perfectly fair, I entered this movie with middling expectations. I wasn't the biggest fan of the original Blair Witch Project, but I respect what it did for the horror genre in the same way that while I may not personally like the Friday the 13th movies, but at least it's historically significant. However, I knew that no matter what happened, it would at least be better than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, a movie so bad I'd go as far to say it's one of the worst movies ever made period. So you could only go up from there.
And to be fair, Blair Witch is 100% better than Book of Shadows. It's a a movie that doesn't fill me with hatred against humanity and I could actually follow what was happening. The problem was that not only are the characters in this movie dumb and unlikable even by horror movie standards, but it also embodies all of the worst traits from modern horror movies and horror movies in the 2000's; naval gazing and jump scares.
Blair Witch is a sequel to the original movie and follows the brother of Heather, the woman that went into the woods and disappeared because of the Blair Witch, a rumored supernatural being that lives in the woods. The brother assembles his four friends, a white girl, a black girl, and a black guy, to investigate the woods after he finds a tape that was filmed within the past year yet has her clear as day in it. They get all of their tech, meetup with some paranormal enthusiasts as their guides, as set off to go into the woods to find her. Needless to say, bad things happen to everyone.
See, right off the bat, Blair Witch had an uphill fight when trying to make it's premise interesting in 2016. Found footage movies have been done to death in 17 years between the original and sequel, most with middling success. Paranormal Activity took the found footage reigns and made it somewhat compelling, but even then that's a stretch. So with such a classic premise, what does this movie bring to the table to make it stand out? Not much really. There's more of a focus on having better technology like drones, walkie talkies, tree mounted cameras, GPS, earpiece cameras, and contemporary digital cameras, but most of those are either disabled by the end of the movie, or don't have anything unique happen to them. For example, the drone has a camera that flies around to get overhead shots, which is cool, but by the halfway point it's crashed in a tree and rendered useless.
I can't help but feel that so much time and effort was put into making this movie standout from the original, but crumpled in on itself and ended up just reenacting the same ending from the first movie. It's not shot for shot, but it goes through a lot of the same beats and ideas. So in more than one aspect, I've seen this movie before. I've seen it when I saw the original Blair Witch Project, and I saw it with other found footage movies that tried to have a paranormal aspect to it. I know that a lot of people like to ridicule Unfriended for how cheesy and stupid it was and that it was about a "Facebook ghost", but at least it had interesting ideas and an interesting execution that felt fresh. This just feels like it was straight out of the 90's.
Here's the thing when it comes to scaring people; the scares need to make sense in the previously established reality on the film. It wouldn't be scary if in a psychological horror movie if a slasher just came in with a chainsaw, or if the Babadook was a reincarnation of Satan. Horror needs to work in its established environment, so when Blair Witch throws in twists to try and scare people, it just leaves them more confused. Why is it perpetually dark outside in these woods? Why did one guy grow a beard? Why is time becoming weebly-wobbly? The answer is "Just be scared! Don't ask questions!" When a horror movie can't justify it's scares, then we have a problem.
Actually I take that back, there is one scare that Blair Witch loves to do; jump scares. Remember those? Those moments that everyone hates when they watch a horror movie? Those moments that are really tense and are ruined with someone just coming out and making a loud noise? Blair Witch has 7 of those. Almost all of them are as follows; character looks in the dark, checks their equipment, and then another character yells "Hey!" and forces the other one to turn around, scaring the crap out of them, all just to have a normal conversation. And it's the one trick that Blair Witch can actually do, but it can't do it right.
But when you add all of that together, strangely enough, Blair Witch becomes one of the best unintentional comedies of the year. The Blair Witch throws tents at people, but not before making the tents fly up 50 fee in the air, and she also likes to make trees fall on people for no reason. One girl gets her spine split in half because of a voodoo doll, so I guess the Blair Witch knew voodoo somehow. My favorite death came from when the black girl, who hurt her foot in the first ten minutes of the movie, finds the drone in a tree. By this point, her foot is infected and she has a huge gash in her leg, but she sees the drone and decides "Imma climb this tree to get it with my hurt leg." She climbs the tree, nearly gets the drone, then falls down and dies. The Blair Witch didn't even do anything to kill her, she just climbed a tree with a bloody leg and fell off from her own volition. How can you not laugh at such stupidity?
I spent more time laughing at Blair Witch and making fun of it than being scared of it, but that isn't to say that it wasn't scary at all. There were a moment of two that got me on edge, but for most of it I was just lazily predicting who would die when, how they would die, and what freaky thing was going to happen next. I was mostly correct for nearly every guess, even the girl falling out of the tree because she was just that dumb.
Again, it's not Book of Shadows, and at least there was some genuine effort to make it scary. Hell, this movie was called "The Woods" for the longest time until it had a surprise reveal in July that it was actually Blair Witch. Effort was made to make this movie as scary and as engaging as possible. Instead, it was just a reminder that for every Oculus and 10 Cloverfield Lane's, we need at least one Blair Witch balance out the equation.
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