Deja vu is a feeling felt common throughout the eighty-seven minute running time of Blair Witch. The characters feel it from the retreading of familiar ground in the woods and finding the locations seen in footage from the woods. But the audience is bound to feel it more. The movie opens with a black screen proclaiming the footage as found, college students go into the Black Hills Forest of Burkittsville to film a documentary and weird events start happening at night. The goal of director Adam Wingard and producers Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick and Gregg Hale, the creators of The Blair Witch Project, becomes clear. Blair Witch, a sequel originally teased as The Woods, aims to be more like the influential original than the disappointment that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Ultimately, this works out incredibly well. Surprising and suspenseful, yet lovingly familiar at the best of times, Blair Witch is easily one of the best found footage movies and one of the best horror movies in recent years.
The premise of Blair Witch starts very similar to the original film, following a group of college students and friends as they go into the Black Hills Forest to film a documentary. What changes, however, are the circumstances. Set in 2014, the group this time is led by James Donahue, the young brother of Heather from the first movie. After seeing a video posted to YouTube that seems to show his sister still alive and in the forest, James makes a plan to find her. Bringing his friends Peter, Ashley and Lisa, along with Lane and Talia, two Burkittsville locals who found and uploaded the footage, they enter the forest to see if Heather may still be alive.
Blair Witch, almost in a vein similar to 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, reuses many of the narrative threads that tied the original Blair Witch Project together. However, this is not really that bad, as it makes the film feel both accessible and even weirdly suspenseful. Anyone who has ever seen the original will likely see where Blair Witch goes, as many shots and scenes almost mirror that of The Blair Witch Project. What becomes strange is that because it feels so similar at points, there is this expectation of something that almost needs to happen. When it ultimately does, be it like it originally was or with some new twist, it still keeps that surprise. The tone, for example, feels like a good replica of the original movie’s, focusing on the approach of the unseen being more terrifying. However, there are some really interesting twists to this with both familiar elements, like the iconic Stickman, and some really intriguing elements to the supposed curse. Blair Witch does keep jumpscares to a thankful minimal, though it does feel slightly out of place when they do happen. Thankfully, when the film focuses on the more psychological aspect, Blair Witch feels amazingly and thankfully creepy. This feeling of eerie and welcome familiarity applies to a lot of the movie, from the camera perspective and shooting to the sound mixing and overall tone. Blair Witch ignores the tropes used by Book of Shadows, which tried too much to be like Scream, and goes back to its roots, which is only a good thing when applied here, at least to fans of the original.
The only aspect where the movie differs is in the acting. Whereas The Blair Witch Project used practically unknown actors and made their characters fictional versions of them, Blair Witch just focuses on making some good characters. Thankfully, this did work to a pretty good degree. The characters are written fairly well and thankfully avoid falling into common stereotypes of the genre. The characters are not completely original and there does seem to be a slight influence from the original trio, but the characters are written better than the average for sure. The acting for the characters is also decently done for the most part, though some of the lines in the beginning can seem a bit overacted or cheesy. The acting does get intense once the curse takes its effect, and it does help to add up to an incredible finale.
Blair Witch is not really that faulty of a movie. In fact, compared to many in the genre, it can be quite impressive. But Blair Witch does have some factors that can be up for debate. Again, the movie does use jumpscares, which have been a tiring gimmick in the genre for years. They are kept to a minimum in comparison to others, but when they appear, it can feel a bit off. The other real big issues involve just how close to the original this can be. For anyone who found the original to be a boring slog through a forest, this one is unlikely to impress. Plus, some fans of the original might find the similarity of it all to give a lack of surprise.
Blair Witch was a surprise with its unveiling and it is this surprise that carries over to the quality of it. Blair Witch, as ironic as it may be to say for a horror movie, was genuinely fun and creepy to watch. The movie was far from perfect, and it might not go down as being as influential as the original. But as far as modern horror goes, Blair Witch is a real surprise. Given the critical reception, it might go down as a cult classic. But thankfully, if this is the only return to Burkittsville, the trek in Blair Witch will be one to remember or haunt viewers.