When the original The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, it was revolutionary. No one had ever attempted the “found-footage” format before, and its success inspired countless imitators. But flashing forward to 2016, the genre has been an easy cash cow for greedy studios making a cheap, generic product. While the new Blair Witch is hardly as jaded or cynical as many modern horror films, it offers nothing new to the genre, taking no risks and improving nothing. It’s a bland film that ultimately amounts to nothing, which is unfortunate considering the potential to do something bold and exciting.
James (James Allen McCune) has spent his entire life curious about the disappearance of his sister, who was lost in the woods years ago. Following the recovery of a mysterious video, James gathers his friends to return to the location of her disappearance, once again looking for clues as to where she could be. But as they come closer to the truth, danger ensues as a mysterious threat emerges with a sinister agenda.
The plot is as generic as it could get, but where the film really fails is in its execution. Directer Adam Winguard, who successfully modernized the horror genre with the excellent The Guest, directs a rather conventional story, with few tricks or modernizations that update the stale genre. While its easy to say that found footage has few new ideas, its evident by films like Cloverfield or Chronicle that new ideas can be tested out with unconventional found footage ideas. Blair Witch is aware of how unoriginal it is, but it just doesn’t care.
The logical misgivings of this film, or its complete and utter lack of character development, can be endlessly broken down. Its hard to expect a film like this to fit within those parameters, but its shocking how little we care about the central motivations for these characters. Again, its not like this was going to be an Oscar-winning script, but the fact that the central mystery or mythology isn’t compelling makes for a bland and very repetitive story.
A film I was reminded of during this film was another horror sequel from this year: 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both are loosely connected sequels, but where 10 Cloverfield Lane took the franchise in a much different direction, Blair Witch settles for the same. Maybe this could be forgiven if it was very well done, but unfortunately for Winguard, it isn’t. In a year full of original and unique horror films like Lights Out and Green Room, Blair Witch sets the genre back, and reminds us why its often disregarded in the first place. Grade: C