*. Maybe there really was a Blair Witch. The franchise, if we can call it that, does seem to have been cursed. The Blair Witch Project was a phenomenal success, but the creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez didn’t go onto anything. The star Heather Donahue is out of movies. The sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 bombed. Another sequel, this film, was stuck in development hell for years and had a disappointing reception when released.
*. Is there a lesson here? It seems to me that the idea itself was a one-off, but I guess there was a lot of “mythology” to develop around the figure of the witch, whoever or whatever she was. And other franchises had a lot of success with less (Paranormal Activity, for example). So maybe something else went wrong. Or, in the case of the original film, went right, like catching lightning in a bottle.
*. The team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett weren’t novices. They’d done You’re Next and worked on V/H/S and V/H/S/2 (with Barrett contributing some of the more interesting episodes to the latter anthologies). And they’d certainly had time to come up with something good. But still this Blair Witch is a letdown.
*. Most director’s or cast and crew commentaries are recorded before the film is released in theatres. There are probably good reasons for this, though it means we miss something. That “something” being any reaction to initial critical and audience response. On the DVD commentary for Blair Witch Wingard and Barrett make light of the critical drubbing and tepid box office the film initially received, though it’s worth noting that the reviews weren’t all bad and the movie did make money. So the commentary gives them a chance to answer some of their critics.
*. Perhaps the biggest complaint against the film was that it was just a rehash of the original, to which it is a direct sequel. There was a reason for this though, as they felt the need to get the franchise “back on the rails” after Book of Shadows. Still, it’s a charge that sticks. There are small variations played on the formula, but mostly it’s the same plot as The Blair Witch Project. A group of young people with cameras enter the Blair Woods, trying to find out what happened to the original trio. They hear scary sounds at night. There are twig ornaments arranged around their tent. They wind up in the same spooky house where the final camera is knocked from the last girl’s hand. And so, curtain.
*. The small variations aren’t enough. The kids have a drone and GPS, neither of which work very well. Aside from that, all the running around in the woods at night with flashlights (and it’s always night, due to some strange warping of time) got tiresome. Especially so for me, because, while I like hiking, I hate camping. The small group dynamics, meanwhile, seem forced. It’s not that, or not just that, there’s no Heather Donahue here to carry things. The thing is, the cast here isn’t allowed to do any acting. They just pant and scream and run and jump and look scared.
*. Even the appearance of what I thought was the Witch comes as no surprise. Is that Javier Botet? No, but it might as well be. I mentioned in my notes on The Other Side of the Door (also 2016) how he’d established a very popular look (he played a similar figure in The Conjuring 2 the same year). That look is here again with the emaciated hag we only catch glimpses of.
*. I say I thought this was the Witch but according to Barrett it’s actually meant to be one of her victims and was never meant to represent the Witch herself. Whatever. How is that a distinction that’s supposed to mean anything to the audience? Or, for that matter, the people in the cabin?
*. I guess they did about as well as expected given the limitations they put on themselves. It’s a lot more chaotic and fiercely edited than the first movie but that may just be the result of audience attention deflation. The Blair Witch Project gave people headaches, but by this time it probably seemed pedestrian. As a result, I felt left behind, and it was only on a second viewing that I could really tell what was going on. I’m getting old.
*. To be honest, by 2016 found footage as a genre was pretty much played out. It may have hit its market (not creative) peak with the big-budget Cloverfield, which had been eight years before this movie. What else new was there to do with the form? On the evidence of Blair Witch, not much. And so a walk in the woods turns into a frantic run, screaming, with flashlights, down memory lane.