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The Blair Witch's Legacy...or lack there of

Daniel Rivera
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The Blair Witch's Legacy...or lack there of
Does The Blair Witch Project have a lasting legacy? Sure, the film is remembered, but is it remembered fondly? Does it linger? 
 
In fairness, you'd be hard-pressed to deny the success of the famously low budget Indie's "DIY" innovations. From its cinematic DNA, to its viral ad campaign (before there were viral ad campaigns), the film's initial cultural impact was not only impressive, but virtually inescapable. It was the kind of "lightning in a bottle" moment in the horror genre that was as rare in a Post-"Scream" 90's world as it was improbable. 

The film's follow-up, the hastily trotted out misfire Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was an unsurprising failure on...well, most levels. With Paradise Lost director Joe Berlinger at the helm, it managed to have a strong grasp of tone (paranoid, disorienting). However, Book of Shadows was mostly out of character with its ostentatious brutality and EDGY, seemingly NU-METAL inspired imagery. This was essentially a cover version of the original Blair Witch Project as done by a Korn tribute band. 

What's more, as a sequel, Book of Shadows failed to make an impact culturally or financially. And, really...that was that. As far as potential franchises go, the prospects were obviously grim, if not completely impossible. Then, for 16 years, all was quiet. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2016. It was around this time that you could start to find, with increasing regularity, a creepy little teaser for a film called The Woods online that was due out the following October. The teaser itself was brief; it was sparse with details. It was subtly haunting. It was accompanied with quotes on screen claiming that it was possibly the scariest movie of all time. This was your basic bullshit, but seemed effective enough. The brief glimpses of the film did appear legitimately intense. 
 
When sufficient buzz was created prior to the film's release, the fact was then revealed that the film in question was not, in fact, The Woods but an honest to God surprise sequel to the original Blair Witch Project entitled simply Blair Witch. It was the kind of tactic that fell more in line with the original's modern media savvy, but still felt a little...cheesy. It just wasn't a terribly exciting prospect. More of an, "...Oh. Okay. Cool, I guess" moment than anything else. 
 
This mentality prevailed within the general public, as the film struggled to make any significant waves at the box office. Then there was its critical consensus, which was "mixed," to put it delicately. All said and done, it certainly would seem that the Blair Witch and her legacy, while briefly showing sparks of life, is finally dead and buried.
 
The reasons for this are numerous, but I would be remiss as to not point out that chief among them is that this most recent iteration is simply not a good movie. Which is so unfortunate, seeing as the Writer/Director team behind it (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett) just finished releasing a tandem of creatively off-center and jubilantly violent horror pieces over the past handful of years in You're Next and The Guest. But any identity that the team have been able to cultivate is not on display here. 
 
Gone, also, is the quiet, eerie dread that covered the original film like a pile of so many dead, dry leaves. Blair Witch is actually something of a throwback horror sequel, in that it thinks when you make a sequel, you simply should do more of the same thing that you did in the original, but do it LOUDER and FASTER. It's a blueprint straight out of the 80's. Also, instead of the infamously bare bones camera work, we now get FACE CAMERAS (or whatever) and a flying drone, which proves to be rather hilariously useless. 

The plot involves the younger brother of Heather (snot dripping girl from the first film) basically convincing a bunch of skeptical moron film students, friends and online cult experts to accompany him on an odyssey into the Burkittsville woods, where his sibling disappeared all those years ago. After some questionable footage shows up on the internet, his never quite dormant desire to find out answers about his sister's mysterious disappearance is renewed in full. 

*Side note: "Book of Shadows" is definitely not canon, and basically does not exist.*
 
So, anyway, they all go into the woods. With a lot of cameras. And then the same stuff that happened in the first film starts happening again. Only there's more of them now, so they can die at a more rapid pace and in increasingly more brutal ways. Also, I think the actual Blair Witch is possibly a shrieking gollum and/or a time lord? Listen, that's enough. 

The problem here isn't even that the film is SO bad. It's not that poorly made. In fact, its final set piece and last stretch of about 20 minutes is actually effectively visceral and kind of disarming. That's what happens when you have a competent film maker in the chair. No, the problem here is that the film is SO useless. And, hey, useless movies get made all of the time. That doesn't mean they can't be a good time. However, when you take the superfluous nature of a film like this and inexplicably marry it with a misguided sense of competence and importance, it gets lost in the motions pretty damn quick. 
 
So, basically, our witch had her shot--twice even, and the well has gone dry. Even in terms of the industry; independent film thrives and fails, and it ultimately has little to do with the ingenious way that the original Blair Witch presented itself. So, while the memory of motion sickness warnings taped up in your local AMC might kick around in the annals of our collective mind, and while Paranormal Activity was...certainly a thing, the fact is that the mark that Blair Witch Project left behind was never all that strong. Now, with this ill-advised attempt at cultural resonance, that fact has only been highlighted. The original Blair Witch was and is an excellent film. And, really, that should be enough. It's just a shame that the impact it had has proven to be more fleeting than enduring. 
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Blair WitchBlair Witch ProjectFilmFound footageHorrorsequels
soupcrusherJanuary 17, 2017 5:30 PM

I wasn't expecting much from Blair Witch. It was ok. I still think the original is an American independent film classic. This new one felt like fan service, a la Force Awakens. "Let's make sure we hit all the right notes and not do anything too thoughtful with it." But unlike a mega franchise like Star Wars, they should've done something less paint by numbers with it. Because who cares, really?
The last 20 minutes were jarring and awesome. Maybe they should've gotten there quicker and had more happen after that? I dunno. At least I got to watch it outdoors at the drive-in with some beers by my side.

Michael LangJanuary 17, 2017 6:06 PM

The original movie is terrible(as are all the others). It showed what clever marketing can achieve...but as a film...AWFUL!

KurtJanuary 18, 2017 8:44 AM

After about 16 years I think that the horror world has finally lost interest in watching or making 'found footage' films.

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 18, 2017 12:49 PM

I sure hope so.

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 18, 2017 12:50 PM

Hmmm. Maybe I'll check it out for those last 20 minutes you make mention of.

Daniel RiveraJanuary 18, 2017 2:11 PM

Yup, the last 20 minutes (there about) are pretty great. I don't think it makes it all worth it, but it shows that there was talent involved.

micky gJanuary 18, 2017 3:35 PM

pretty much a straight rework of the original formula, although its so familiar now its just a case of going through the motions. i could have switched this off at any point with no interest as to what happens at the end. having said that, kinda glad i did as the last section (as others have mentioned) was quite tense and grabbed my attention. really struggled with some overly noisy fright attempts and shouting panic scenes when you are raising the volume to try and tune into the creepy noises in the woods. the movie really jarred in terms of audio. ultimately forgettable.

GarthDJanuary 18, 2017 3:52 PM

And the award for worst taste goes to...

GarthDJanuary 18, 2017 3:53 PM

Yeah, the last stretch is pretty good, but the hour or so it takes to get there is just a lazy retread.

GarthDJanuary 18, 2017 3:54 PM

Why? Because most are crap? So are most movies in general, maybe people should start whining about losing interest in conventional filmmaking.

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 18, 2017 4:10 PM

I'm not whining. I'd just like to see that trend fall by the wayside. Relax.

moneenerdJanuary 18, 2017 8:40 PM

Still, I feel that REC and REC 2 were incredible.

GarthDJanuary 19, 2017 11:39 AM

You're right, I was being hyperbolic.

And speaking of relaxing, you don't have to hope that a filmmaking technique goes away, you can just, you know...not watch..and leave them for people who are willing to give found footage movies a chance.

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 19, 2017 11:50 AM

They are.

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 19, 2017 11:52 AM

It's shitty overuse that I take issue with, not the genre style itself. I've enjoyed plenty of found footage films. I get that we're moving into a pissing contest at this point so I'll walk away at this point. I'm not attacking you or your preferences. I myself adore plenty of films that are not generally liked so I get the impression that I know where you're coming from. We're all allowed our opinions.

out

wagnerfilmJanuary 19, 2017 2:34 PM

I didn't think much of the original movie either, but that was almost surely due to the excessive hype surrounding its release, which the finished movie could never equal. And there have since been so many better examples of found footage horror in its wake. Even YouTube ARGs like Marble Hornets had a higher creep factor.

uıɐH ɯɐSJanuary 22, 2017 12:55 PM

For what it's worth, one of the faux-documentaries brought Blair Witch 2 back into canon somewhat, if we're counting those as canonical too? I'm not sure how official they are/were, lots of the lore was discussed (Rustin Parr, Ellie Kedward etc.) and for my money, there's a lot of fantastic stuff that could be tapped for at least one more sequel (or a show, dare I dream!)

If you liked the original, and watched it back when the buzz was still fresh, the documentary/backstory stuff is fairly convincing and certainly reframes BWP and this new one. Plus like I said, they sort've retcon Book of Shadows as a "re-enactment" of another Burkettsville Woods massacre. I think if they were to lean toward the backstory stuff there's certainly legs to the franchise, maybe the newest movie could serve as simply a refresher, and go from there.