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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 01:32 pm

Dull “Witch” Pales Next to Original

For some inexplicable reason, director Adam Wingard has gained the reputation of being some sort of horror craftsman among aficionados of the genre.  Based on his previous work (V/H/S, You’re Next, and others), this can only mean that the standards of modern fright-film fans have fallen very low indeed.  A master of confusion rather than suspense, Wingard, while capable of creating a genuinely eerie tone, fails when it comes to following through with a disturbing or even mildly frightening punchline. While the “less is more” approach is often a plus when making a horror film, the director’s “less is less” method, which has mistakenly been seen as arty, results in more frustration than fright.

Three dumb teens are about to enter the Blair Woods in Blair Witch.
Courtesy Lionsgates Films.

This is why Wingard is a dismal choice for Blair Witch, Lionsgate’s foolish attempt to jumpstart a franchise that quickly petered out when the first sequel to The Blair Witch Project was rejected by audiences, as they quickly recognized it for the turkey it was.  Hopefully, today’s audiences will have a similar response as Wingard’s film is a dull, confused production that lacks not only lacks scare, but a basic understanding of how to construct of film of this sort.

The connection to the original film is tenuous at best.  Seems that James (James Allen McCune) was the little brother of Heather, who went missing in the Blair Woods some 16 years ago.  Now, footage has been found of the last moments of two hikers who went missing.  Posted on-line, James pours over it again and again and is convinced he sees his sister in this gruesome video.  He convinces his buddy Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) to go out into the woods with him to look for his sister.  Another friend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), decides to tag along to record the adventure for her documentary film class, while the two who posted the video (Wes Robinson & Valorie Curry) join them as well.   

Part of the genius of The Blair Witch Project was the sense of claustrophobia directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez were able to create by only using two cameras.  With only two perspectives to cut between, the audience felt as trapped and vulnerable as the characters.  We shared in their limited perspective, making what we couldn’t see more terrifying than anything a special effects maestro could concoct.  Wingard goes the other direction, using nine different cameras, which immediately diffuses the tension. In being able to cut back and forth from so many points of view, “Witch” has the look and feel of a traditional Hollywood film, while its sprawling visual approach leads to confusion and frustration rather than claustrophobia and fright.

A creepy discovery is made in Blair Witch.
Courtesy Lionsgates Films

The script by Simon Barrett is simply a pastiche of familiar moments from the first film and there’s nary a fresh plot twist in sight. Other than a nice little piece of body horror, Witch depends on far too many jump scares to be effective while its one imaginatively gruesome moment is negated due to Wingard’s inability to stage a simple static shot. Shots of the ground going by in a blur, he’s mastered; anything that demands visual clarity eludes him.

Truth be told, any attempt to revisit, remake, reboot The Blair Witch Project is a fool’s errand. It remains one of the great classics of the horror genre that cannot be improved or expanded on. But as long as there’s a studio intent on squeezing a buck or two out of a gullible audience, we’ll be forced to sit through inept work like ”Blair Witch.”

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