When it was announced that director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett were working on a new horror film titled The Woods, horror fans were rightly excited. This was the pair responsible for You’re Next and The Guest, after all, and they’d comfortably proven they were talents to watch. Many reacted with trepidation then to the news that The Woods wasn’t The Woods at all. It was Blair Witch, a belated sequel to the infamous The Blair Witch Project, the esteemed (if now a little dated) grandaddy of found-footage genre.
They should never have doubted them. If you’re at all sceptical that the world needs a new Blair Witch film, that there’s scope to do anything new with camcorders and spooky trees, then worry not: Wingard and Barrett have found a way.
The story picks up in 2014 with James (James Allen McCune), the now-adult younger brother of Heather, one of the poor three teens who went missing while filming their own Blair Witch documentary years ago. Together with a few of his friends, and later joined by two local Blair Witch believers, they head back into the same woods, cameras in tow, in the hopes of discovering what really happened.
In case you couldn’t guess, it all goes a bit wrong. Much like the original, this film takes its time before it builds to anything too alarming, instead filling time with idle chat, bickering, and the mundane challenges of camping in the American wilderness. Once night falls though, all bets are off, and it’s mysterious noises, scary sculptures, and some really weird shit.
‘Relentless’ is a word that gets thrown around a bit too often when it comes to films, espsecially horror, but it couldn’t be much more apt here. From around the midway point on, Blair Witch never lets up once. There’s no pause, no stop for breath, no humour to break the tension. It’s constant, exhilirating terror, the sort that gets your blood pumping and makes you wonder if your chest usually feels that tight, the sort that leaves finger dents in the armrest.
From genuinely masterful sound design (has the sound of a camera switching on ever sounded so terrifying?) to the frantic framing, this is a full-sensory horror experience. The film grips you, envelopes you, shakes you around for a while, and then chucks you out at the end, to stumble bleary-eyed into the world asking what on earth just happened to you.
If the film has a fault, it’s too closely entwined with its strengths to complain too earnestly. In seeking to be so full-on it loses some of the ambiguity and mystery that made the first such a compelling a viral hit. This is the Blair Witch for 2016: that means it’s a hell of a lot more intense, but it gives away a little too much in the process.
That won’t be what you’re thinking about while you’re watching it though. In fact, you’re not likely to be thinking much at all. You’ll be hanging on for dear life and wondering when you’ll get the chance to breathe again.
Words by Dominic Preston