Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blair Witch Review

The history of 1999's The Blair Witch Project is a rather fascinating one. The movie was a cultural phenomenon that was revolutionary in the horror genre. Made on a mere $60,000 budget, the goal of the then unknown filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez was to make a horror film about an ancient witch legend that would trick audiences into believing was real. The movie starts by claiming that the movie people were about to see was compiled from actual camera footage recovered from three hikers that had gone missing five years previous and never found. The marketing campaign leading up to the movie aggressively pushed this angle to the point where they even passed out missing flyers for the supposed missing actors at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered and had a website with fake police reports and other stuff like that to trick people into thinking that this was real. The IMDb page even listed the actors as "missing, presumed dead." The gimmick worked. People were tricked. Thus the movie became the first movie to go viral over the internet with its marketing campaign. This led to a final worldwide tally of $248.6 million off that $60,000 budget, making it one of the most profitable movies ever made, popularizing the found footage genre. Prior to The Blair Witch Project, less than 10 found footage movies existed. Now there's over 100.

Like I said, The Blair Witch Project has a fascinating history. I have mad respect for what the movie managed to pull off and as such I will say that it is a phenomenal found footage movie. Probably the best found footage movie there is. But I am not one who experienced this movie-going event in theaters. I was only 10 years old at the time of its release and I certainly wasn't into that type of horror movie at such a young age. I had always heard about it and was interested in seeing it, but I never got around to seeing it until recently. If you haven't seen it, it's the type of movie where you need to be aware of this history to fully understand and appreciate it. But if I'm being honest, despite me believing that it's a great found footage me and realizing that it successfully accomplished what it set out to do, I don't think it's a movie that holds up. Yes, if three kids did get lost in the woods and their footage was later discovered and edited down into 81 minutes of footage, this is exactly what it would look like. But as a movie, it's not that great. Most of its 81 minute runtime consists of these three hikers walking around and complaining that they're lost. It's not that scary and there's no real payoff. Sorry, I'm not a fan. I respect it. But I don't love it.

So how about this sequel? First off, this had another genius marketing campaign that was the exact opposite of the marketing campaign of the first. This movie was on the schedule and advertised as a random September horror movie called The Woods. It even had an initial trailer that set up a purposely vague premise of people being haunted in the woods. Well, two months ago at San Diego Comic Con it was revealed that The Woods was not actually called The Woods. It called Blair Witch and was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Whoa! We just got got Cloverfielded for the second time this year. If you remember, 10 Cloverfield Lane did the exact same thing earlier this year. It was on the schedule as something else until a couple months before release it was revealed that this random movie was actually a Cloverfield sequel. The only difference between 10 Cloverfield Lane and Blair Witch in terms of this marketing campaign is that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn't have a fake trailer. For the record, in a day where it's hard to keep a secret, I'm all down for people continuing to successfully make secret movies. It's kinda refreshing and fun. Gives me a bit of nostalgia for the day when we didn't actually know what was coming out until the trailers showed up.

But did people actually really want another sequel to The Blair Witch Project? Based on early weekend projections, apparently not. Especially not when reviews and word of mouth have not been so good. It only has 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 5.9 on IMDb, a D+ cinemascore, and a projected opening weekend total of less than $10 million. But do you know what? Going into this movie, I didn't actually pay much attention to the reviews simply because I knew my experience with The Blair Witch Project was much different than others. If you're one that loved The Blair Witch Project, thinking it was disturbing and scary, I don't know if this review is going to be any help to you. I didn't think The Blair Witch Project was scary at all. As I said, 81 minutes of people whining and complaining that they were lost with piles of rocks and stick contraptions showing up occasionally. Realistic, yes. Scary, no. This sequel, Blair Witch, is no masterpiece by any means. But the goal for these filmmakers was to make a good, scary movie instead of trying to make a movie that would convince people that the Blair Witch actually existed and that these kids actually got lost in the woods. As such, I think Blair Witch is actually a scarier movie than it's predecessor.

Let's talk about the problems in this movie, though, because there's plenty of them. The biggest one that everyone has been bringing up is that this is kinda the same movie as the first one. At least for the first half. The second half of the movie goes in a much different direction and I'll touch on that in a second, but the first half of the movie goes point for point along with the first movie. We're following the younger brother of the girl that went missing. He thinks his sister is still alive. So he decides to make a documentary. He gets some friends to go camping in the woods. We talk about the Blair Witch. They set up camp. Weird things start to happen. People loose their tempers. There's less focus on the whining and complaining, which I appreciated. Also in the first one there's a steady stream of cursing throughout most of the second half of the movie once things go wrong and that wasn't the focus here either, which was nice, but I still felt like I was watching a movie that used the exact same script with different characters. So what's the difference between this and a movie like Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Well, there's a bit a fine line between following a formula, paying homage, and making the exact same movie. But there is a difference. The Force Awakens follows a formula. Blair Witch makes the same exact movie twice.

Another thing that I didn't like was that they did focus a little too much on some classic horror clichés. There were a lot of dumb people making dumb decisions in order to try to build tension. That was annoying. Thus I cared a lot less about our cast of characters than I did in The Blair Witch Project. Also, there were a lot of fake jump scares. One of our characters would be walking through the woods in the dark and out of nowhere a friend would jump out in front of them. One or two of these would've been fine. But there were a ton of these moments and it got really annoying really fast. Thus things weren't looking good for this movie for a while. But then it got better, especially in the final act. Without diving into things too deeply, one of the things that people thought was scary about The Blair Witch Project was that you never saw anything. It was 100 percent ambiguous. Normally I'm not one to demand for us to see the monster. But The Blair Witch Project is a movie that felt a little bit empty and thus I would've liked a bit more payoff. Blair Witch satisfied me on that. Despite a rough start, the final act of this movie is absolutely terrifying. It dives deeper into the Blair Witch mythology without ruining things or being inconsistent with what the first setup. I imagine some hardcore fans will be mad at this, but I was satisfied.

Overall, The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch are two movies that had two very different goals. The goal of The Blair Witch Project was to make a movie that would trick people into thinking that the footage people saw in the theaters was actual footage. Thus it was a perfect found footage movie in terms of how realistic it was. But the consequences of this goal is that 17 years later the actual movie itself is a little boring and lifeless. We see nothing. We hear hardly anything. There's no payoff. It's not scary. Instead there's 81 minutes of people wandering around in the woods complaining that they were lost and letting out a constant stream of cursing. The goal of Blair Witch was to actually make a movie that was scary. Yes, they focus too much on annoying horror clichés and copy the plot of the first movie too much, but it felt like a more complete movie to me. And despite some annoyances in the first half, the movie actually payed off with a fantastic finale and a phenomenal final scene. Not a masterpiece by any means, but I enjoyed it more than I did the first. In giving a grade to both movies, I would probably give The Blair Witch Project a 6/10. I've not actually seen Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and nor do I ever plan on doing so, which is why I've ignored it in this review. But I do think Blair Witch is a serviceable horror that I enjoyed, so I will give it a 7/10.

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