Deja vu is a common feeling throughout the 89-minute run time of “Blair Witch.” The characters feel it – from the retreading of familiar ground in the woods and finding the locations seen in the video footage – but the audience is bound to feel it too. 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.
The goal of director Adam Wingard quickly becomes clear. “Blair Witch,” a sequel to the 1999 hit film “The Blair Witch Project,” aims to be more like the influential original than the disappointment that was 2000’s “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.” Ultimately, the new movie achieves that goal. Surprising and suspenseful, yet familiar, “Blair Witch” is easily among the best found footage movies and horror movies in recent years.
The premise starts very similar to the original film, with a group of college students and friends heading 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 (James Allen McCune), the younger 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 (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Lisa (Callie Hernandez), along with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the Burkittsville locals who found and uploaded the footage, they enter the forest to see if Heather could still be alive.
“Blair Witch” reuses many of the narrative threads that tied the original “Blair Witch Project” together. However, this is not bad; it makes the film feel both accessible and even weirdly suspenseful. Anyone who has seen the original will likely see where “Blair Witch” is going, as many shots and scenes almost mirror the first film. And because it feels so similar at points, the plot creates an expectation of something that almost needs to happen. Yet when it ultimately does, it still keeps that surprise. The tone, for example, feels like a good replica of the original movie’s: the approach of the unseen is far more terrifying. However, there are some really interesting twists with familiar elements, like the iconic Stickman, and some intriguing new dimensions to the supposed curse.
Thankfully, “Blair Witch” keeps the jumpscares to a minimum. When the film focuses on psychological fear, it’s amazingly creepy. This feeling of eerie and welcome familiarity applies to a lot of the movie, from the camera perspectives 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.
The only aspect where this movie differs from the first in the series is in the acting. “The Blair Witch Project” used practically unknown actors and made their characters fictional versions of them; “Blair Witch” just focuses on making good characters. Thankfully, this works. The characters are well written and avoid common stereotypes of the genre. The acting is decent, though some of the lines in the beginning are a bit overacted and cheesy. The action gets intense once the curse takes effect, and quality acting adds to the incredible finale.
“Blair Witch” was genuinely fun and creepy to watch. The movie was far from perfect, and it won’t be as influential as the original. But as far as modern horror goes, it’s a real surprise.
This movie is rated R.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.