Blair Witch Returns

Lisa (Callie Hernandez) runs from the Blair Witch. (photo courtesy of Vertigo Entertainment.)

Lisa (Callie Hernandez) runs from the Blair Witch. (photo courtesy of Vertigo Entertainment.)

In 1999, three film students traveled into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while making a movie about the Blair Witch legend. The only thing that was ever found of them was their footage.

This is the plot of “The Blair Witch Project,” a 1999 film that caught attention for the production company creating fake police records and leading its audiences to believe that the actors were actually dead.

Adam Wingard’s new film, “Blair Witch” follows James, the brother of Heather Donahue, the young woman who vanished in the forest, as he tries to uncover the truth about what happened to his sister and her crew.

The storyline alone was enough to create a great movie. James, who was four years old when his sister disappeared, gets together with a group of friends to make their own film about the legend of the Blair Witch. This seemed to be a solid starting point, adding a new spin on an old horror film. Unfortunately, the focus on the plot dwindled as the movie went on.

Wingard’s film is far more suspenseful than the original. From the opening scene, audiences are put on edge by a woman running through an abandoned house, shot from a point of view angle. Audiences then learn that this is “footage” that was found after Heather went missing. It is then that viewers learn James’ plans on going to find out more about his sister’s disappearance. From this point on, the film creates suspense by adding jump scares, which usually included a cast member turning around only to be face to face with… another cast member. While this briefly startled audience members, it soon became expected. Instead of taking advantage of the storyline they had, the film depended on jump scares that didn’t help move the story along.

A major flaw in this film happened in post production. The amount of jump cuts in this movie was excessive, even for a horror flick. This editing technique made it even more difficult to figure out what was happening in the already jumbled plot. While the hand held cameras made the film look realistic, the overuse of jump cuts made it cheesy and, after a while, distracting.

This year has seen the release of several successful horror films, such as “Lights Out” and “Don’t Breathe.” Both of these films have strong plots and focus on psychological terror to keep the attention of the audience. “Blair Witch, in comparison, uses poor special effects that make the scenes that are supposed to be scary almost comical.

Audiences see the wrath of the Blair Witch as she makes a tent fly up into the air and uses her witchcraft to send several trees falling to the ground. It’s perhaps every horror filmmaker’s worst nightmare to hear audience members laugh during a scene that was intended to scare. However, that’s exactly what happened several times throughout the screening.

For all that is wrong with this film, the highlight is the acting. While there weren’t any Oscar-worthy performances, all of the cast members came off as being genuinely afraid of what’s lurking in the woods. A scene in which Lisa, the camerawoman, is stuck in a tunnel is the one time throughout the entire film that the audience feels just as scared as the characters. Wes Robinson, who played Lane, a local who joins the group on their journey, was convincing as a lunatic.

In the last 15 minutes of the movie, the audience is reminded of the purpose of this journey into the woods: to find James’ sister. After James discovers the abandoned house in the woods, the last place on his sister’s film, he does what any main character in a horror movie would do: he goes in. For the remainder of the film, the audience is subjected to more unnecessary jump cuts and writers scrambling to tie the story together.

As audiences learn in the movie, the legend of the Blair Witch states that someone who looks directly at the Witch will die from sheer terror. While the title character makes her first appearance in the final scene of the hour and a half movie, the film would have benefited from a much earlier cameo.