“Blair Witch” is a nauseating ride of terror

Blair-Witch-poster-sThe movie The Blair Witch Project from 1999 arguably started a trend, especially in the horror genre, where the movie is comprised of “found footage,” usually from some disastrous or tragic event whereby the footage was left behind for someone to find and release in the form of a documentary. Of course these are all fictional, and while film footage of this nature has been used in other movies, the cult like success of The Blair Witch Project found a way to use “found footage” as a means to deliver scares at a whole new level. Sadly, it has also become an unwitting technique in making the movie going audience terribly nauseous.

There have been many movies of this found footage sub-genre to come out over the last decade. Some have even become franchises in their own right, and now with the third film of this particular film series, Blair Witch has returned to its roots and delivered a new film of the found footage sub-genre.

This film serves as a loose sequel to The Blair Witch Project. The younger brother of one of the characters from the first film has found evidence that has pushed him into finding his missing sister, and one of his best friends will coordinate the filming of this search as part of a documentary. They organize a camping expedition, and with the help of some nearby locals of the area where the original film team supposedly vanished, they make their way off to the very same forest where the Blair Witch herself supposedly still haunts and kills.

I never saw the original The Blair Witch Project, and while I did admit to a certain curiosity because of this innovative story telling idea, the opportunity just sort of came and went. I never saw the second film Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 that came out in 2000 only because people expressed their huge disappointment in that the film was made in a more “traditional manner” through the use of mostly steady cameras and was not a “found footage” type of film. Now with Blair Witch the filmmaker has returned to the idea of found footage, and that is its biggest failing.

The premise is, for this film, that someone found all of this lost footage and put it together as this type of documentary, but the edits in what we see are so incredibly rough and all over the place that they make it impossible to actually allow one’s self to be pulled into the film. Any decent film editor would have thrown out useless scenes of the camera just moving about while these groups of people were just riding in their cars. Instead they are left in the “final cut” and are totally extraneous. They quite literally serve no purpose. They do not advance the plot, nor do they provide any further insight into our intrepid cast of explorers. There were also plenty of bits where all we got was just black screen and silence, as if the “editor” of this found footage just left it there. Again, this just took me out of the movie, only to be followed by another terribly annoying technique that would be to come back to some actual footage through the introduction of very loud noises, almost as if the director of this movie (Adam Wingard) was trying to create false scares in the hopes of ratcheting up the tension with the theater audience. Not only did it not scare me, for one or two people in the theater this actually generated laughter, as if those people thought these types of gimmicks for the film were a joke. However most people reacted with stone silence.

The worst part of this film is the incredibly jerky motion made by the person holding the camera. The film has us believe that there are two people with actual film cameras, and the rest of the group have ear pieces with cameras built in. I believe this is to help create added believability to some of the “found footage” used in this movie and to justify the manner in which it was filmed. Sadly it doesn’t. What it did do was make me terribly nauseous while watching it, and that simply served to further take me out of the overall movie experience. We here at TG2 Studios, along with a number of friends, call this “vomit cam, “ and for good reason. I do not make light of the fact that during some rather tense scenes in the woods that I quite literally had to look away and stare at the running lights on the floor of the theater because I knew full well that had I continued watching the screen I would have indeed vomited from motion sickness. I can’t speak for the rest of the audience in the theater, but their subdued reaction to much of the film would suggest that they may not have been feeling all that great either, therefore the scenes in the film that were meant to generate surprises and scares ended up being rendered ineffective. With all of that, I will say that the last 30 minutes of this film aren’t actually that bad. There were some good scares delivered as two of the film’s group stumble across the very house where the older sister supposedly vanished from the 1999 film. The scenes were so frantic, with lots of surprising apparitions appearing and disappearing in abandoned rooms that it did create a feeling of some authentic suspense. It is here that I must give credit to the greatest asset this film has, and that is its cast. To be able to act and give a state of pure terror is no easy thing to do. That is why so many scare movies of the 80’s have been regarded as some of the campiest horror films ever to come out of that particular genre, but what these people did in this movie was nothing short of amazing. The real scares in this movie do not come from either the story directly or the manner in which it was filmed, but through their reactions to the terrifying situations they found themselves in. Because of the “multiple camera” premise that was used in the making of this found footage, we get to see the faces of each of the cast as either something terrible was happening to them, or that they were a witness to something terrible happening. That is what spooked me. The character Lane, played by Wes Robinson (Calvin and Freddie’s Cosmic Encounters) as one of the group’s guides, delivers a performance that borders on madness from what he has experienced, and Callie Hernandez (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, Alien: Covenant) as Lisa Arlington, along with James Allen McCune (Shameless, The Walking Dead) as James, the brother of the missing sister from the first film, show pure terror that can only come from some deep, dark places of the human psyche, which can only be described as bone chilling.

Unfortunately, as strong as this cast was, it was not enough to save the film. It suffers from two flaws that could have turned the story into something truly compelling. Lane seems to be experiencing time at a different speed than the rest of our crew. When he becomes lost in the woods, while for our regular group of explorers it has been merely two days, when we catch up with him his experiences prove that it has been much longer. This would have been a great avenue to explore in greater detail as it then might have created an even closer connection to the original The Blair Witch Project. There might have been then an opportunity to actually re-introduce Heather, the older sister to James, who has been missing, and even possibly show us again the Blair Witch from Book of Shadows, but instead those ideas aren’t explored any further. Instead we get a few loud sounds, quick moving shots, and then the camera ends up on the floor only for someone to later discover.

This is the last great problem with the premise of this film. Supposedly this house where Heather was lost could not be found. It is only during the course of this film that James and Lisa find it during their night of terror, and by losing their cameras there, and assuming that anyone who has ever found that house has never lived to tell the tale, how was this “footage found” in the first place?

This was a disappointing film. Over the last year I have become quite fond of good horror films. I was very optimistic about Blair Witch when I heard about it, but despite the incredible strength of this wonderful cast of young actors, the plot holes and the poor filming technique of this movie made for a disappointing experience. Instead this story would have been much better told simply around a campfire. Now THAT would be scary!!!

Special thanks go out to Fingerpaint Marketing for allowing us to attend the Press Screening of Blair Witch.

Only because of the incredible acting by the cast can I give Blair Witch 1.5 out of stars.
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