A Review of Blair Witch (2016)

Note: The following contains moderate spoilers for Blair Witch (2016).

A Blair Witch released in 2016 was never going to capture the mystery and freshness of the original. It was released to an audience who had 17 years to get savvy with found-footage horror and did. However, if it wanted to, Blair Witch is a film that could have retained the raw look of the format that the original film established and it chose not to, instead opting for the safe cleanliness of a Hollywood picture. Most of the film is ostensibly shot from cameras mounted on the side of the characters’ heads. They’re far smaller than Go-Pros, and yet they record in high resolution with no visual artefacts. The shots are too centred and stabilised to be convincing, and it’s all professionally edited.

Not that someone couldn’t realistically professionally edit some footage they found in the woods or that you definitely can’t make a found-footage horror work without the low-fi style, but it puts you in an awkward position. Blemishes in filming and cinematography give found-footage horrors a lot of their personality, and when you forgo them, you need another source of personality for your film which is something Blair Witch doesn’t have. Some of the best moments are the scant auditory experimentation like characters holding walkie-talkies to each other or listening to a demonic cacophony on the way into the woods. Although, the redeeming success of the film is in the final section where the pace stays up, but a first-person camera keeps you guessing what’s in the shadows and gives a vivid sense of a claustrophobic setting.

Ultimately, the film is uncomfortable in what it’s trying to be. Like the original Blair Witch Project, the characters are in not in any direct peril for the majority of the story, but Blair Witch (2016) seems to think that’s rather boring and so introduces all these false jump scares: frights which don’t come from anything directly dangerous to the characters. These manufactured jump scares are as empty here as they are in any other film, but they also feel somewhat insulting to Blair Witch, to slower-paced horror, and to the audience that enjoys these things. The film seems to believe that its events by themselves are not compelling enough and so that unless it introduces a steady drip of shock moments for the sake of them, viewers will fall asleep.

Is Blair Witch better than most horror coming to film these days? Sure, but it’s still not a Blair Witch that’s confident in its vision and suffers for it. Thanks for reading.

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