Dark Film Review – Blair Witch (2016)
Review Written by Casey Douglass
The original Blair Witch (The Blair Witch Project) came out in 1999, to the fanfare of, if memory serves, some people finding it so intense that they had to leave screenings. I have somehow managed to miss seeing the original film, and in the intervening years between then and 2016, found footage films have become a more common cinematic device, from the likes of V/H/S to Cloverfield. I do enjoy the format, the shaky-cam adding a more visceral feeling to the events of whichever film might be using it, even sometimes adding juice to the jumps and scares. Blair Witch (2016) however, was a big, fat, yawny experience for me.
The film follows the story of James (James Allen McCune), documentary maker Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a couple of other friends, as they head into the woods after a video emerges online seeming to show James’ vanished sister (from the first film) Heather. They gear up with all manner of expensive looking tech, from ear cameras with GPS to a neon lit drone, in the hope of capturing some element of what is going on out there, and ultimately, for James to hopefully find Heather. They meet up with the guy who posted the triggering video and his girlfriend, who want to tag along too. Thus the scene is set.
Before I start to pound the film, the aspects that I did enjoy were the narrative and the soundtrack. The narrative, while seemingly basic, did feature enough twists and uncertainty, especially with relation to the video posting couple, that it did cause me to have to sit and be suspicious of what was really happening. This gets a big thumbs up from me.
The soundtrack was also very enjoyable, especially from a dark ambient perspective. Ominous rumbles, animal calls and creaking trees, backed up by lots of crumping heavy footsteps did a wonderful job of setting the scenes firmly in the environment. This proved a very good thing, as you will soon suffer with tree fatigue when you watch Blair Witch.
Yes, I know Blair Witch is set in the forest. I get it. If you like seeing blurry trees with pixelated artifacts rush by as someone screams and pants, you’ll bloody love Blair Witch. This is where the sound became so important: there isn’t that much to look at a lot of the time. The film seems to know this as well, using stupid people-based jump-scares for large portions of time until things begin to progress. Someone looking at a tablet in the dark, “jump-scare!” yep, someone with absolute ninja skills just made them jump by touching their shoulder. Open your tent because you hear something outside, “jump-scare!” someone jumps inside having made no sound on approaching and ignoring your fearful shouts. All I can say is that the film seemed full of ninjas who were incapable of saying “I’m coming!”, preferring to scare the shit out of their victim.
Another positive for the film though, is that I don’t feel it revealed too much of its antagonist, The Blair Witch, which is something it should be applauded for. Most of the time she is just a rumbling mass of impending doom, and when you do get to see her, it’s for the merest of glimmers.
On to the business of a rating then. I didn’t think Blair Witch 2016 was terrible, but it was far from brilliant as well. On a personal level, it didn’t scare me or make me jump once, leaving me plenty of time to ponder why someone with a fever suddenly seems to lose it, or what were they thinking they would see using a drone in a dense forest besides a tree canopy stretching as far as the eye can see?
Blair Witch is worth watching but don’t expect much. I give it 2.5/5, and really wonder how the reviewers quoted in the trailer managed to get so much fear and enjoyment from it.
Blair Witch Images © Copyright Lionsgate