It has been seventeen years since James's sister, Heather, went missing in the woods outside Burkittsville, MD. Convinced that some newly discovered footage reveals clues as to what happened to his sister, James convinces several friends to venture into the woods with him, so they can learn the truth.
I saw The Blair Witch Project in 1999, during the tale end of its successful theatrical release, and enjoyed the movie for what it was. An entertaining little spook show that left just about everything to the viewers imaginations. Some viewers, like me, appreciated this. Some did not. So it goes.
Perhaps it was my being a child of the seventies, having come of age while spending many a Sunday afternoon watching In Search Of..., and reading, then rereading, Jay Anson's "true haunting" story The Amityville Horror several times, back when people still believed that it was real. That may have been why The Blair Witch Project hit such a specific sweet spot in my horror genre adoring heart. I thought the movie worked. But I can also see why it would not work for others.
As Blair Witch, a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project, and one that ignores the maligned first sequel, played out, it became more and more clear to me that the movie was developed with the latter viewers in mind.
Did you think The Blair Witch Project was silly/not scary because:
1) You never saw anything?
No worries. There is plenty, and plenty of the Blair Witch itself, to be seen in this sequel.
2) You thought the characters in The Blair Witch Project were ill-equipped for a trip into the woods, then behaved stupidly after they got lost?
Not here. These characters go into the woods armed with a drone, GPS, and other pieces of tracking/communication tech. None of it helps. It is also made very clear that supernatural forces are messing with them (i.e. the sun sets and then does not rise, etc.)
3) The ultimate fates of all involved are left unexplained...
Well... Same thing happens here. Whatever the Blair Witch does, once it captures its prey, is still left unexplained and wide open for personal interpretation.
On the plus side, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett (You're Next, The Guest) do a splendid, and meticulous, job of mapping out the rules of the Blair Witch mythology. They show how difficult it is to become a victim of the Blair Witch. Potential victims not only have to cross a river, they also need to spend an entire night in the haunted woods, in order to become ensnared in the lethal, and inescapable, web of the Blair Witch.
On the negative side, Wingard and Barrett do nowhere near as good a job addressing why this group would be so foolish as to go into those woods, almost two decades after the events of the original film. Did any of these characters ever bother to watch The Blair Witch Project? Granted, the movie is never mentioned, but the footage is. Wingard and Barrett also do not come up with any kind of explanation as to how and why this footage was discovered and assembled.
Speaking of footage, the newly discovered 2014 footage is just a jazzed up recreation of the final moments of The Blair Witch Project. I had a very difficult time believing that anyone, after having watched said footage, would have been willing to spend a single day, much less an entire night, in those woods. Even if the viewer did not believe in the supernatural, there was enough in that footage to convince said viewer that there might be some backwoods psychos out there.
The end result is a movie that works only in fits and starts. Wingard/Barrett develop a small cast of likable characters, something that cannot be said of the first film, and proceed to dispatch them, one by one, in a series of well crafted set pieces. Unfortunately those set pieces, as effective as a great many of them are, never gel into a whole that satisfies. When the credits rolled, I could only shrug my shoulders and wonder, 'Why?"
Two and a half stars (I really liked some of those pieces, and the mythology was well constructed and explained.)