Not to be too dramatic, but Blair Witch is the most disappointing movie of the year so far. I don't mean that because Blair Witch—originally introduced with the title The Woods before a surprise Comic-Con reveal—was god awful. I mean that because the stakes for Blair Witch were too high for its own good. Blair Witch, as a standalone movie? Pretty fine! At the very least, it belongs in this year's growing collection of just decent horror films. Blair Witch, within its context, as a sequel to the seminal 1999 original that basically kick-started horror's found footage format that is also helmed by the genre's most promising modern director, Adam Wingard? A disservice to all parties involved.
In a way, Blair Witch was always set up for failure. The Blair Witch Project was very much a product of its time: pre-Internet, pre-found footage. On a personal level, the 1999 film from Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez was formative for my origin story as a horror aficionado. My parents had rented the movie on pay-per-view when I was eight years old and had cautioned me to stay in my room. Of course I disobeyed their order and snuck out of my room and watched the whole thing, an experience that both scarred me and inspired me to seek out more horror films. It was even more sensationalized in my head because I lived in Maryland at the time, near the very park where the movie takes place (which I even visited), and because it was marketed as a "true story," with accompanying books re-affirming this, the silence of my parents, and no easy means for me to fact-check online. I 100 percent believed The Blair Witch Project was a documentary. Because of that, there's never been a horror film that shook me to my core quite like the original did.
But can a Blair Witch work in 2016? A Blair Witch in our current age of the internet? A Blair Witch that we fully acknowledge is just a movie? A Blair Witch after a decade-plus of found footage movies, some brilliant but mostly tiresome? For all the doubts that clouded the project, early rave reviews seemed to trump them. For horror fans, the names Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett—the directing and writing duo behind some of this decade's best horror films (You're Next, The Guest)—were enough to put a little faith back into the exhausted reboot machine. That was enough for me, too. Until I actually saw the movie.
Wingard and Barrett have proven to have enough tricks up their sleeves to make genuinely fresh and exciting horror films, but they've always thrived on original ideas. Thrown into an established premise with an established cult following, they failed to live up to expectations. Blair Witch is probably fascinating for young viewers who had never seen the original movie and didn't live through that hype, but for those familiar, it offers nothing new. This new Blair Witch very much belongs in the same universe as the original film, except this time it's Heather's little brother James venturing into the woods with his friends to find out what happened to his sister, whom he still believes could be alive even though she disappeared around 15 years ago. But new footage of the Blair Witch uploaded to YouTube sends him and his way-too-supportive friends hurtling right back into the scene with hopes that it could open up the case again. It somewhat makes sense that James would carry this fascination into adulthood, but the other characters' point of motivation is even shakier than the hand-held footage itself.
The film falls apart early, and fast. The only improvement the new Blair Witch brings to the table is the advanced equipment—drone cameras and ear pieces—but ironically it's the too-polished look that makes us feel too much like We Are Watching a Movie. Everything is too purposefully shaky, every camera placement too intentional. There are moments that are telling of the effective horror filmmaker creating the movie (a panicked run through a house, a tunnel crawl, even some of the false scares), but Blair Witch is, at best, only good in moments.
But Blair Witch was possibly most hurt by its hype. Hype was what made The Blair Witch Project such a success, but it's what will severely disappoint fans anticipating the sequel. We saw a similar side effect of hype with The Witch earlier this year, but it might prove to be even more severe for Blair Witch, which Wingard had called his "first full on 'shit your pants' horror film." The marketing campaign continued to roll with this idea of soiling yourself, even joking that you might need to wear diapers to the movies. But with the exception of a few mild jumps (mostly helped by INSANELY LOUD SOUNDS), Blair Witch doesn't even live up to the scare factor of the original. Again, it'd be impossible to replicate the virality of the original, and the unique fear of watching it with complete conviction. Blair Witch had to, at the very least, amp up the scares all the way up. But by the time the movie goes into the fuck-all runaround inside the witch house, it frankly feels exhausting. It feels... fake. Worst of all, Blair Witch is, and feels, so unoriginal—rendering a 2016 Blair Witch sequel completely unnecessary. In a way, we already knew it would be (I, too, was in denial). Blair Witch likely won't be a box office failure this weekend, but it's a glaring failure for the legacy of the Blair Witch.