Airheaded college kids are venturing back into the Maryland woods, and apparently they haven’t learned from the past in Blair Witch, a remake masquerading as a sequel to the 1999 horror classic that became a target for unfair backlash.
Indeed, those who saw the first film will find many familiar elements in place — from the remote setting to the creepy wooden stick figures to the mysterious dilapidated house in which plenty of supernatural evil seems to live. The original ideas, however, are in much shorter supply.
The Blair Witch Project was a micro-budget chiller that became an unlikely box-office smash and prompted numerous copycats both in terms of theme and technique (along with a horrendous sequel the following year) — for better and worse.
Like its predecessor, the new film borrows the found-footage, shaky-cam strategy and tries to prey upon common fears of things that go bump in the night. Yet unlike the first film, which felt more organic, Blair Witch works too hard to justify its contrived concept, perhaps anticipating scrutiny of the logical gaps too numerous to mention.
The premise references the disappearances of the characters in the first film, most notably Heather, whose younger brother (now in college) becomes convinced that she might still be alive after an encounter with the legendary Blair Witch. So he rounds up his friends, and even hires a couple of alleged guides, for a camping trip to find the truth. Yet it’s not long after telling stories around the campfire that their adventure turns into a nightmare.
It’s a shame that director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) plays all this silliness with such a straight face. At least he effectively re-creates the gritty aesthetic from the original, with allowances for technology from the age of drones and social media.
Yet it simply isn’t as scary by comparison, mostly because it’s not as fresh. The scattered inventive tricks and unsettling moments — particularly in the third act — don’t translate into consistent tension.
From a character perspective, it’s difficult to root for these dim-witted thrill-seekers who come right off the genre assembly line. Early on, one of them asks rhetorically: “Are you sure this is a good idea?” The same question could be posed to the filmmakers.
Rated R, 89 minutes.