Adam Wingard/ US/ 2016/ 89 mins
In cinemas Nationwide now
Releasing a successful sequel to a much loved and often imitated horror film is difficult, and rarely achieved. Unfortunately this ambitious undertaking doesn’t match up to the understated bleak genius of the original film. The plot is simple and somewhat underwhelming and the blend of high definition cameras paired with an impossibly beautiful cast renders the film confusing and ineffective. With the characters and plot being set out in the first few minutes the film does not go very far. Once it’s found that the protagonist is making a film about the disappearance of James Donahue’s sister, the plot quota is seemingly filled and there is very little further development; meaning the characters are never quite as endearing or infuriating as you want them to be.
The large number of characters compared to the first film also means intimacy is lost and the spectator only grazes the surface of their psyches. As a result the film is less psychological horror and more supernatural slasher. What is nice is to see a change from the first film, the director does not simply imitate but establishes their own style, including the impressive use of technology, which somewhat makes up for the threadbare story line.
The camerawork is innovative and exciting, with the first person angle preventing the action from being overly shaky and really placing the viewer into the dark and isolated atmosphere of the woods. However, the seamless shifting from camera to camera and the perfect sound and lighting are not suited for a found footage film and consequently detract from the realism. The use of a drone camera is also interesting, providing birds-eye images of the forest, but the very short length of these clips mean the feelings of isolation and terror at being lost are only hinted at, before the camera was swept away again. There is a sense of the movie tripping over itself, trying to get to the next visual spectacle as quickly as possible, and sacrificing atmosphere in the process.
There are moments of real horror, but they are only moments, and some of the big ‘scares’ lapse into humour as they become over the top and gaudy. The use of gore is well done, evoking genuine discomfort and many of the special effects do not rely too heavily on CGI. However, what is most disappointing is the repeated gimmicky use of the image of the elongated Witch and the lack of extra information gained about the woods, the curse, and the mystery surrounding one of the main character’s sisters.
The scenes within the house offer glimpses of good film making. These are well shot and spectacularly acted, particularly the underground tunnel scene; one of the few where the terror is truly believable. The film comes into its own in the final ten minutes, but this brief flash of potential only highlights the flaws in the previous hour. The short run time and the quick succession of deaths and disappearances also mean no real tension or fear are built up.
Blair Witch is a somewhat enjoyable supernatural romp, but what is really missing is a creepy atmosphere and consistent tone. Obviously caught between realistic found footage and polished technology-driven material, the film achieves neither successfully and is not memorable or original enough to uphold the cult status created by the original installment.