Despite the claims of those who are either lacking in imagination or presumably spent the entire time with their eyes focused on a phone, The Blair Witch Project is a scary film. It builds its tension to an unbearable level and reveals nothing but hints as to what is happening to its audience. Because of that, it has a mythology that is ripe for exploring and which seventeen years after the original Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are returning to.
A fact that they managed to keep secret for quite a while. Filmed under the name of The Woods it was only announced a few months ago that this was, in fact, a Blair Witch sequel. It was a marketing strategy used by 10 Cloverfield Lane but unlike that film, this was clearly intended as a sequel from the beginning.
In the world of the film, it is twenty years since the events of the original. The twist being that the original existed in this world too, except it showed real events. With the bodies of the original filming team having never been found, Heather’s younger brother James is still puzzling over the mystery of his sister’s disappearance. When he stumbles upon some footage posted online that appears to show her, he decides to retrace her steps. Getting a team together and heading into the woods.
One of the great benefits of time is the improvement in technology. The question of why they keep filming is removed by the decision to include Bluetooth cameras that can be clipped behind the ear. It’s easier to believe someone would leave the camera on when running for their life if they have forgotten it exists. It doesn’t enter the question of why the hell they’d all go camping in the freaky fucking woods, though.
Blair Witch manages to capture a little bit of the originals tension, at least for the first two-thirds. When it is the story of a group of filmmakers stranded in the woods being freaked out by unexplainable things it is nerve-wracking. The forest around them becomes claustrophobic, and you find yourself frantically scanning the surroundings for a threat that so often isn’t there in the physical sense.
It’s a shame then that the final act loses that, turning instead into a haunted house ride as it relies on cheap jump scares and shaky cameras. Not that that isn’t there for the rest of the film but where as before it is used as moments in among the rising tension, the final act sees it take centre stage.
There’s also the issue of the whole thing feeling so much more like a film than the original. While it – in the pre-internet days – convinced people of its authenticity, this could never pull off the same trick. It’s a movie to its core, and it does make it easier to remind yourself that it’s not real.
Despite this, Blair Witch is still a good attempt at stepping into that world. Wingard has previously shown himself to be a lover of the genre, and he continues that here. There are more than enough scares to make sure that you won’t be going down to the woods anytime soon.