Blair Witch (2016)

2017 #66
Adam Wingard | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | Canada & USA / English | 15 / R

Blair Witch

Twists in movies come in all shapes and sizes, but rarely do they come in the marketing. This latest film from the writer-director team behind You’re Next and The Guest was initially promoted as The Woods, only for its true name to be revealed at the first public screening. Quite neatly, during said screening they switched all the posters in the lobby for ones featuring the real title. It’s a shame it wasn’t possible to give every viewer that “oh shit, it’s a sequel to The Blair Witch Project!” surprise, because it’s probably the most interesting thing about the film.

Set however-many years after the original movie (and ignoring the first sequel, just like the rest of us have), it’s about the younger brother of one of the original missing documentary-makers, who comes to believe that his sister is still alive, somehow, in those woods, all these years later. So he sets out with a couple of friends to investigate, and of course one of them documents it, using all sorts of cameras — handheld, body mounted, even a drone. So, yes, this is once again a found footage movie. Well, they are all the rage.

In fairness, the first Blair Witch was the father of found footage, so it only makes sense to retain the form. However, I’d argue that everything that worked about the original movie did so because of how it was filmed — that the cast had been put in that situation ‘for real’ and the filmmakers were fucking with them. It gave it all a rough plausibility, which is largely what made it scary. Conversely, this Blair Witch feels scripted and constructed from the off. That’s fine for most movies, even found footage ones, but here it stands in sharp contrast to how the original worked, and I think it undermines this movie. Almost everything feels inevitable, and you know all the important stuff will be captured on camera (at least one major stunt in the original film was missed because the scared actors didn’t happen to point the camera at it).

A deserted house in the middle of a creepy forest? What could possibly go wrong!

As a horror movie, it does achieve moments that are kind of scary, but they’re undercut by a certain obviousness. I mean, of course a deserted house in the woods is scary when you know there’s a murderous witch inside and you’re limited to seeing it only from one character’s torchbeam-lit perspective. The whole movie is powered by similarly cheap jump scares: friends creeping up on each other; cameras glitching whenever they’re turned off; or, indeed, on — that kind of thing. The only genuinely terrifying bit, at least to me, was a final-act crawl through an underground tunnel. This is not a good movie for claustrophobics. And it only gets worse when you learn they made the actress do it for real.

In some ways Blair Witch is just a remake — a bunch of young people running around in the woods from something scary that we don’t see. Early on it seems like it will bring something interesting to the party with its use of new technology to update the concept: whereas in the original they had one simple video camera, here there are ear-cams with GPS, webcams they can mount in trees, even a drone. Sadly, none of these contribute anything except more angles for the editor to use. Plot-wise there’s a shiny new twist, though I wonder how many people guessed it a long time before the end. Credit to the filmmakers for not overplaying it — it’s there just to be noticed; it’s not highlighted when it’s revealed — but I was so expecting it that such credit doesn’t get them far.

Eh, that's a bit of a reach

According to, er, themselves in their commentary track, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett actually had a lot of interesting ideas about and explanations for the inexplicable stuff that’s going on in the movie. Unfortunately, they buried these notions so deeply in the finished work that it feels as if they’re not there at all; and now there’ll be no sequel to expound upon them, and the guys were in such a bitter mood when they recorded the commentary (within days of the film being a critical and box office flop) that they don’t explain them, apparently out of spite. Well, I guess we’ll have to take their word for it, then.

Maybe if they had bothered to explore the implications of their new tossed-in ideas then there’d be something to appreciate here, but instead it’s just 80 minutes (and it feels longer) of shaky footage of people running around in the dark. I suppose that, as a horror film, some of it works in the most literal sense of being scary in the moment. But it doesn’t feel earned; it doesn’t feel like it’ll be haunting me later, in the way the most effective horror movies do — in the way the ending of the first Blair Witch did.

2 out of 5

Blair Witch will be available on Netflix UK from tomorrow. It’s also currently available to rent on Amazon UK at a discount for Prime members as part of Prime Day.

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The Blue Rose Monthly Update for May 2017

What does it mean?

Twin Peaks' blue rose

What does it mean?!


#63 Nightcrawler (2014)
#64 Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
#65 Four Lions (2010)
#66 Blair Witch (2016)
#67 Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
#68 Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014)
#69 Alien: Covenant (2017)
#70 Twin Peaks (1990), aka Twin Peaks: Pilot (International Version)
#71 Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017), aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
#72 Underworld: Blood Wars 3D (2016)
#73 The Accountant (2016)
#74 A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
#75 New Tale of Zatoichi (1963), aka Shin Zatôichi monogatari
Nightcrawler

A Matter of Life and Death

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  • 13 new films watched this month. That’s the same as April, though slightly down on the 2017 average (15.5, now exactly 15).
  • This is the 36th consecutive month where I watched 10 or more new films — that’s three solid years since a month with nine or fewer.
  • By the end of May last year I’d reached #101, the earliest I’d ever passed 100. This year I’m on track to do it in July, which would equal 2015 for second-earliest.
  • Does that indicate anything for my final total? Well… no. The last two years prove that conclusively. Looking at the end of June (i.e. the halfway point), in 2016 I’d reached #115, but, rather than make it to #230, I ended the year at #195. However, in 2015 I finished June at just #90, but, rather than stop at #180, I got all the way to #200.
  • Back to the here and now, I had a bit of a franchise frenzy this month: including my rewatchathon (see below), I watched two Prometheuses, two Underworlds, five Pirates of the Caribbeans, and made five feature-length trips to the world of Twin Peaks (the three films above and the opening double-bills of the new series, of course).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: the fantastic British fantasy romance A Matter of Life and Death, a film which, if anything, is underrated. It’s certainly in need of a UK and/or US Blu-ray release.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Jake Gyllenhaal gives an incredible performance in neo-noir thriller Nightcrawler, which UK readers still have a few days left to catch on iPlayer.



The 24th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Not a bad month, but my shortlist of favourites quickly came down to two (see the posters accompanying the viewing list). For me, the edge goes to the aforementioned neo-noir starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler. You can read my full review here.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This also quickly came down to two options, both of them ’90s franchise revivals that disappointed. I feel like it’s “more fool me” for expecting anything good from ID4-2, but I felt like the early buzz and behind-the-scenes pedigree of Blair Witch should have delivered. I’m still a bit excited for Adam Wingard doing Godzilla vs. Kong, though.

Worst Retitling of the Month
Salazar’s Revenge may be less evocative than Dead Men Tell No Tales (though, arguably, more relevant to the actual movie… but only a bit — that film’s busy with plots), but don’t worry, Pirates 5, you’re safe when this clanger’s about: the beautiful A Matter of Life and Death was bluntly renamed Stairway to Heaven in the US thanks to its main special effect. And you thought US cinema’s monomaniacal focus on effects movies was a recent thing.

Biggest Unanswered Question of the Month
How is Annie?!

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the new Pirates of the Caribbean may have both walked all over it at the box office, but it seems people were much more interested in what I had to say about Alien: Covenant. Guardians 2 did come second, but it was with precisely 25% as many views.



May turned out to be my best Rewatchathon month so far, nearly doubling the number of films I’ve revisited this year. As you can see, a lot of that was actually thanks to new movies that were coming out…

#9 Back to the Future (1985)
#10 Prometheus 3D (2012)
#11 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
#12 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
#13 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
#14 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3D (2011)
#15 Underworld Awakening 3D (2011)

Well, whatever works.

Anyway, I’m still not on track for where I should be (an average rate of 4.3 films per month means I should be at #22 by now), but I’m a lot closer than I was.


Inevitable disappointment in the general election. (Rest of the world: we’re having an election, did you know? Apparently you’ve not noticed. Nor should you, really.)

As for cinema, well, the big new films include that Tom Cruise Mummy movie and the new Transformers.

I’ll pin my hopes on Blu-ray, then…