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Review: Blair Witch

There’s no denying how much of a cultural impact ‘The Blair Witch’ had when it landed in cinemas back in 1999. There had never been anything remotely like it. The movie was a massive shot of adrenaline in the arm of the horror industry, and kick-started a whole wave of both imitation and innovation in the genre. But was it any good? Really? Even at the time of its release, despite heaps of critical praise, a significant percentage of audiences walked out of their screenings ridiculing the film, with the final scene a particular point of irritation.

The movie had been part of a planned trilogy of films about the Burkittsville Spectre, and a whole host of books and computer games were mapped out in order to expand and capitalize on the new franchise. Alas, ‘Book Of Shadows’, which was released a year later, made sure none of that came to pass.

An absolute stinker of a movie, hurriedly put together and rushed into cinemas in the hopes of making a butt-load of cash, it dispensed with the found-footage format, with both critics and audiences subsequently dispensing with it. Fast forward 16 years down the line, and here were are, suddenly finding ourselves in receipt of a further sequel that none of us expected, and very few of us wanted. So, is this new installment any good, and does it have a place in the modern cinematic landscape?

Alas, the answer to both questions is a resounding ‘NO’. Whilst in no way a turkey on the level of ‘Book Of Shadows’, ‘Blair Witch’ is very much a tired re-tread of the original, with a little bit of tinkering and upgrading here and there to try and make it relevant. Which it isn’t.

The filmmakers, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, have clearly given it their best shot, but there’s no papering over the fact that there just isn’t another story to be told about the missing film crew. This becomes painfully obvious from the opening 5 minutes, which showcase the paper-thin background to the movie. We’re quickly informed that original character Heather had a much younger brother. He’s spent his life trawling the Internet for clues to his big sister’s disappearance, when he comes across an uploaded video purporting to be more found footage from Burkittsville.

It’s on the strength of this footage, which is blatantly obvious within two seconds of being seen that it isn’t his bloody sister, that he gathers a new group of expendable stop venture with him to his certain death. Joined by a pair of local oddballs, the ones who purportedly found the new footage lying around in the woods, we then waste 80 minutes of our life watching the film play out in the most predictable of fashions.

The movie expects us to be engaged by the fact that the characters are now wearing sexy cameras that transmit 24 hrs a day, and are armed with drones and GPS locators as well. But who knew? Turns out that the ghost can screw those safeguards up too, just like it did in the first movie.

The film’s only real saving grace is its brief runtime. We’re a mere 25 minutes in before the first round of nocturnal ‘bang, bang, crash’ kicks off. The sad truth is that the found-footage genre has evolved quite a lot in the last 16 years, and this is a movie that hasn’t. There just isn’t anything scary about someone frantically waving a torch and a camera around in the dark, stumbling through foliage and bushes before screaming and disappearing offscreen. It wasn’t particularly scary back then, it still isn’t now.

It’s on the half-hour mark the film makes its only real effort to engage the audience, and throws the idea of there that the ghost can manipulate time as well as space, with some of the characters apparently meeting future blood-soaked versions of one another wandering in the opposite direction. Sadly, it’s at this point that the proverbial penny drops in relation to the footage that set up this little misadventure, making the remaining 40 minute run to the ending even more tedious.

Unlike in the original, there’s a little bit of body-horror thrown in to try and mix things up a little. There are also a couple of vague ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ glimpses of something actually moving around the peripheries of the group, rather than just total darkness and noises. None of this can actually compensate for the lack of plot or predicable path that the narrative takes. The cast perform their duties as well as they can, given the poor script and limited development they’ve been given, but none of them particularly stand out.

Our advice, give this one a miss, even when it comes out to stream. There are umpteen other similar films that you can find on steaming platforms with either truly original stories to tell, or better performances to watch.

Grade: C-

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