Young documentarians return to haunted woods
Starring James Allen McCune & Callie Hernandez
Directed by Adam Wingard
In theaters Sept. 16, 2016
Witches have been around for centuries, and the Blair Witch—well, she’s been on the scene since 1999, when a modestly budgeted little flick called The Blair Witch Project became a spectacular $250 million worldwide hit and created an entire genre of “found footage” horror films in its wake.
“Found footage” movies came to follow a certain format: Someone documents something unsettling with a video camera then mysteriously vanishes, leaving their baffling “footage” behind for someone else to discover—and decipher. The footage can shape the entire movie, or—as in the original Blair Witch Project—be the movie.
In this latest Blair Witch spawn, nearly 18 years later, another group of attractive young people ventures into the same haunted woods in Maryland that claimed the original movie’s victims. Apparently, they’ve seen the “footage,” if not the original film. James (James Allen McCune) is looking for clues to the disappearance of his big sister, who never came back from that fateful trip. He brings along three of his friends, one of whom (Callie Hernandez) is working on a student-documentary project for her college class—so she rigs everyone with every kind of recording gizmo conceivable.
The group picks up another pair, a rather odd young couple (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who found the original footage and posted it online. They claim they can be their guides into the Black Hills Woods—a place steeped in legends of a 17th century witch lynching, a cursed town and modern serial-killer madness.
In addition to “traditional” hand-held cameras, everyone has mini-cams that clip to their ears. They also carry portable units that can be mounted on branches, heads or sticks, and there’s even a drone that lets them see what’s going on from high above.
The result is that everything gets recorded—and I mean everything. We see the group drinking in the bar the night before they leave, eating weenies around a campfire, crawling into their tents to sleep. We get to watch as one pees on a tree.
On the upside, all the cameras “explain” why, and how, we’re seeing what we see; this is this movie’s “found footage.”
And when the scares start to roll in and ramp up, all the different shots—the jumpy, jerky cuts between cameras, the glitches and bleeps as audio and video signals cut in and out—add to the sense of extreme disorientation, especially when things get all weird and time-warpy. But the gotchas aren’t anything novel, particularly frightful or ghastly, or anything you haven’t seen before; they just come via new gadgetry.
Important takeaways: Don’t get too attached to any of the characters. Beware, as always, of the “stick men,” the Blair Witch’s handmade calling cards. Don’t go wandering off at night by yourself. Take proper care of all puncture and slash wounds, lest something hideously creepy happen to them. Keep hands and fingers away from the whirring blades of drones lodged in the tops of tall trees. In eerie, deserted houses in the middle of haunted forests, for God’s sake, stay out of attics and basements. And never look directly at the Blair Witch: “No one’s ever seen her and lived to talk about it,” warns one character.
That may indeed be true. But after seeing how upset she particularly seems to be at this group of kids invading her ancient dark space with their arsenal of high-tech recording devices, I’m wondering if the grumpy ol’ gal just simply isn’t in the mood to be photographed and uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or anything else. She doesn’t strike me as the social media type.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine