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Worth A Look: 15.38%
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Total Crap: 30.77%

1 review, 7 user ratings

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Blair Witch
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by Jay Seaver

"A perfeclty watchable sequel to a legitimately great movie."
3 stars

"Blair Witch" probably does "The Blair Witch Project" as well as a any movie since the original, and that's no bad thing - once upon a time, before home video or even television reruns, the purpose of sequels was just to give the audience more of a thing they liked more than a next chapter, and this film does that well. The thing is, even beyond how capturing the out-of-nowhere uncertainty of the first film is all but impossible in that first movie's shadow, one almost wishes that writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard had made a knockoff rather than a sequel - covering the same ground as well as they do might work better if it's not explicitly the second time through.

It is, though - after a very familiar disclaimer about how these memory cards and DV tapes were found, we're introduced to James (James Allen McCune), whose sister Heather was one of the people who disappeared in the woods about 17 years earlier, when he was four. A new bit of video surfacing on the internet has him thinking she may still be alive out there, and his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), herself a film student, opts to document it. Also along are his oldest friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and they wind up joined by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the couple that found the new tape. So they go out in the woods, hoping to find the house on the tape(s), although that didn't exactly work out well for James's sister.

It's been a while since I saw the first movie - possible since the original release - but I suspect that the new one actually has a stronger ensemble, both in terms of the characters on the page and the cast bringing them to life. Though maybe not the most ambitious exercise in creating characters likely doomed to get knocked off by some supernatural force, Barrett's script quickly establishes who htey are nad how they're tied together, and the cast adds enough little shadings to that to make them seem real enough to get hooks into the audience: There's a chemistry between James Allen McCune and Callie Hernandez that can hint at unwitting attraction - or maybe Lisa being aware James likes her and using it to get this story - as well as awkwardness at people presuming their a couple; at any rate, these people seem to have history without manufactured drama. Brandon Scott especially does a sneaky-good job; he's got deadpan bits that would get big laughs in a horror movie calibrated slightly differently, and he handles moments when Peter can be kind of abrasive with aplomb. Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry weave in and out of the movie as characters outside the central group, but their moments are some of the best, and Corbin Reid handles the often thankless jobs given to Ashley very well.

Director Adam Wingard is pretty great at putting them through their paces once they've been introduced, too. There's economy in his set-ups; a random-seeming shot showing that James is an EMT keeps things moving smoothly later, for instance, and a quick demonstration of how the technology we can use to record video has miniaturized and changed in the decade and a half since the original Blair Witch Project upgrades the aesthetic while also making the bounds of what the film can do clear. And once it comes time for the freak-outs and chases to start in earnest, all of that almost casual table-setting pays off - compared to most makers of found-footage movies, Wingard is good at getting clear, dynamic angles that can be cut together into a thrilling action sequence without having to do much to justify this, although he also goes for shaky-cam chaos when that seems appropriate. The last half of this movie is a thrill ride that uses some primal human fears (being lost in the woods, tight spaces, buildings gone to seed) and jump scares to push the viewers toward the edges of their seats and stitches together some potentially messy filming. It's augmented by ambient music Wingard composed that seldom registers enough with the audience to make them question why this has been added to supposedly-documentary footage while still also adding to the tension.

The script is a problem, though, and that's surprising, considering that Wingard's collaboration with Barrett has produced some tremendously sharp genre films in the past few years. Writing a sequel seems to throw him, though, especially for this movie. There's an early moment where a character explains the iconic final scene of the first in a way that seems weightless and diminishing but also doesn't actually create interesting new additions to the Blair Witch lore; the film winds up being full of hints that some very strange things are going on that don't come together. That was fine for the first, but a sequel that opens with a hook to the original creates an expectation of progress. The first sequel, Book of Shadows, had its faults but pushed on in a different direction and made the audience feel that there was more to do with this section of the woods and its backstory than just rehash what we had already seen; for all that Barrett sets up some pretty nifty pieces for Wingard and the cast and crew to knock out of the park, he's never quite able to find the right balance of recreating what made the first film a sensation and giving this one its own great moments.

In another era, they wouldn't have to - just recapturing what made the first unique would be enough for an audience that didn't have access to it at their fingertips. Now, though, that's not quite satisfying enough, and while Wingard, Barrett, and the rest have made a pretty good horror movie - it generates legitimate goosebumps - they've also made one that has a hard time standing next to its exceptional predecessor.

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originally posted: 09/19/16 00:31:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/09/17 morris campbell awful rip off of the original forget it 1 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell trash the worst 1 stars
1/09/17 mr.mike Is "no bad" 4 stars
9/29/16 Angel Baby Araiza Movie was not good at all thought it would be better since a few years had past but it was 1 stars
9/18/16 Croweater888 Atrocious trash, almost completely unwatchable. 1 stars
9/18/16 action movie fan woul;d be good if not for almost completely copying the first 3 stars
9/17/16 Mary Wilkes Very awesome, wish this was done first!!! The best one of the 3! 4 stars
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  16-Sep-2016 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2017



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