Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

Blair Witch (2016): written by Simon Barrett, based on characters and situations created by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard; directed by Adam Wingard; starring James Allen McCune (James), Callie Hernandez (Lisa), Corbin Reid (Ashley), Brandon Scott (Peter), Wes Robinson (Lane), and Valorie Curry (Talia):

Why a sequel? The financial success of a jillion found-footage horror movies since the unexpected +$100 million of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 suggests that you don't need name recognition to sell these things. You'd also think that the horrible bomb that was Blair Witch: Book of Shadows would have warned the studio off.

Nope.

Set in 2014, Blair Witch tells the tale of lost documentarian Heather's brother, four years old when she disappeared, now leading his own documentary crew into the Maryland woods (now played quite noticeably by British Columbia). A piece of footage on the Internet has convinced him that Heather is still alive, though how he figures this out from the ghoulish face caught on tape leaves me flabbergasted. Oh, well.

So another group of twentysomethings goes into the woods. In a nod to 'More is better!' there are now six of them rather than three. Things go poorly. 

Director Adam Wingard noted in an interview that Blair Witch is "about getting chased" and not about "getting lost in the woods" as in the first movie. Boy, do they get chased! Loud sound effects crash and thunder, trees are hurled around, and massive structures are built over night. The Blair Witch is back, and she brought a bulldozer and a construction crew!

Somehow, even the advent of wearable recording technology doesn't make this sequel's characters any more plausible than the loyally camera-toting crew of the original. It does increase the chance of getting nausea from all the fast-twitch camera spins, though. This must have been Barf-Bag City in a goddamned theatre.

Unlike the original, Blair Witch has entirely scripted dialogue rather than partially improvised dialogue. Somehow, this dialogue is way stupider and more irritating than anything in the original. And there's no character here to worry about, even slightly. In doubling the number of major characters, the filmmakers also manage to eliminate any empathy the viewer might feel for them. They've become the anonymous victims in a slasher movie.

Do we actually see the Blair Witch in this movie? I'll leave it to you to research that answer. No, actually I won't. The director says, "No." That yellow, long-armed zombie glimpsed on several occasions is a victim of the witch, not the witch herself. OK. That's tremendous.

I'll leave you to discover the awesome excitement of a person with a severely injured foot trying to get a drone out of a tree. Or the sudden appearance of on-screen sympathetic magic of a pretty high order. Or the baffling late scene in which bright lights seen from inside a house (that house!) cause a character to ask, "What the Hell was that?" and me to reply, "I think the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is here to save you. Get out there!"

There's a brief moment of genuine near-horror that could have made for a better movie. At one point, two of the group who've been separated from the others for about 12 hours reappear, talking about being lost in the woods for days in a world where the Sun never comes up. This brief run of dialogue delivers the only frisson of horror this ham-fisted crapfest manages. Then it's back to throwing trees at people.

Alas, those two old guys fishing in three inches of water don't reappear in this sequel. I'm guessing they read the script and said, "Hey, we may have been improbably fishing in three inches of water in the original, but at least we didn't suck." 

In the spirit of the original's horror-deflating fishing sequence, this movie offers us an ominous early shot of insects on the ground. But the insects are bumblebees, the least scary and most endearing stinging insect in the world. This is not a portent. This is a shot of lovable bumblebees trying to fly out of the shot so they don't have to be in this awful movie. Go, bumblebees, go! Not recommended.

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