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Blair Witch is comparable with Evil Dead 2 in as much as it's delivering what the first one did, with less novelty and more finesse. The original The Blair Witch Project was one of the first found footage horror films to emerge and while the hype exceeded delivery, managed to carve out a new genre of cinema, signalling a cross-over between high-end and commercially available video recording.
While the low budget horror was something of a shaky-cam pioneer, it received favourable reviews, tipping the hat to its mock-doc style shooting, genuine creepiness and the way it leveraged our imagination with an "invisible" villain. Since then, the reality camcorder genre has blossomed and it just seemed like a good time to introduce a new generation to one of the founders with a modern skin.
Blair Witch is a terrifying ordeal and a strong redux. The new version is cleverly refreshed and supplanted in the original with an X-Files style "missing sister" device. Instead of Mulder we have James, who still believes his sister Heather is out there... in the woods. After another video surfaces of what he believes to show she's alive, he assembles a brave expedition party, including two strange locals.
Blair Witch has been updated to include contemporary technology with over-the-ear cameras and I loved the introduction of the untrustworthy guides. The filmmakers could have done so much more with the evil locals to the tune of Funny Games, but keep us guessing with their odd behaviour and off-balance with rising group tensions.
The cast is good, with James Allen McCune starring in a similar mould to Nicolas Hoult as James. He's the calm and steady hero, leaning on Callie Hernandez as Lisa with Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott playing fellow campers, Ashley and Peter. Wes Robinson is probably the most memorable act from Blair Witch as Lane, whose cold blue eyes make him seem almost possessed with the film-makers obscuring us from him and his partner, Talia, played by Valorie Curry.
Adam Wingard maintains this uneasiness by playing on a multitude of fears, from claustrophobia to nyctophobia (dark), xenophobia (unknown) and even acrophobia (heights). Switching from one perspective to another and given access to multiple cameras, including a drone, gives him more options as a film-maker. He doesn't add polish or finesse, but keeps the spirit of The Blair Witch Project with shaky cam shooting, creepy situational dynamics and using what-goes-bump-in-the-night scare tactics.
Instead of going play-for-play, Wingard takes it up a notch by creating a hellish environment for his characters and audience, where being lost in the woods suddenly takes on a whole new dimension of terror. Blair Witch is a solid remake but also serves as a tribute to the genre, incorporating elements from all the best reality horror thrillers, including REC and Paranormal Activity.
It probably would've been better, if Blair Witch had teased out the suspicion on the "guides" longer. As with most of these low budget found footage thrillers, the loose ends contribute to the uncertainty and fear, while the jerky camera motion is a strength and a weakness. It's not going to change the world, but it will immerse you in the pitch black nightmare just long enough to be utterly relieved to see the light of day again.
The bottom line: Terrifying