Horror: BLAIR WITCH
While horror sequels, like all sequels, have a tendency to repeat the same formula, it actually allows for far more variation and more experimentation than other genres. Whereas we want to hear the same jokes again, we want to see different and more varied deaths. Even the series themselves usually shift genres, often transitioning from pure horror into dark comedy and then into all-out camp. We accept this, often because horror movies are released with such unrelenting frequency that the filmmakers have no choice but to adapt, and horror audiences seem comfortable with changing (often to the point of flat-out mocking) the premise.
So where did Blair Witch go wrong? Well, everywhere. Opting for a soft reboot/sequel angle with this franchise is utterly perplexing. If any series could have benefited from a full-on remake rather than a sequel/reboot, it’s probably this one. The original The Blair Witch Project from 1999 is remembered primarily for its marketing campaign and being among the first to successfully go viral. The last Blair Witch property was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in 2000, which was a meta sequel so poorly received it killed the franchise for over 15 years. And without some iconic character – your Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, Jigsaw, the Invisible Hand of Death itself in Final Destination, chair falling in Paranormal Activity – Blair Witch as an intellectual property couldn’t remain in the pop culture cloud. Guy Standing in the Corner is not exactly your Good Guys Chucky doll.
Now sure, the full-on reboot fails most of the time (e.g. Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, likely the upcoming Friday the 13th remake remake), but it’s not like that’s stopped filmmakers before. And unlike those other series, it’s not like we have any actual relationship with the Blair Witch that must be preserved. Besides, it’s not unprecedented that a full-on reboot could work; Fede Alvarez pulled it off in 2013 with Evil Dead, which was a full-on remake of a film franchise so beloved that its protagonist has his own TV show on Starz that is in its second season. Now while that probably means we won’t see the continuing adventures of Jane Levy’s Mia, it nevertheless got some of the critical acclaim eluding these other properties. Plus, Blair Witch filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are effective in playing into genre conventions while making them feel fresh so they’d be among the best choices for doing something unique with a brand we only kind of remember.
But still, why the sequel angle? No one remembers a mythology from 1999 that was murky at best anyway. Making the plot being about the brother of “I’m so scared!” Heather going on a quest to find his sister 15-20 years after the fact (and after anyone has thought about her or her two cronies) feels more than forced, but a bit disingenuous. To be fair, horror movies can work great with characters broken by the past and fixated by its specter hovering over the present. From Dr. Loomis in Halloween to the siblings in Oculus, we can see how this element can be used effectively, but Heather’s brother just seems like an average guy. We never get a sense of the damage the incident had on Heather’s brother or his family, and there are many ways they could have shown how – maybe he’s a minor celebrity about Burkittsville, maybe he tried to capitalize on his sister’s disappearance – but he has no real personality other than ‘guy who holds the camera.’ Without the tragedy of a life (or lives) lost due to obsession, we lose one of horror’s most potent tools.
And these problems plague the film before it actually starts. After it begins, we run into a whole mess of other issues. Found footage loses its impact when there are so many cameras shooting with cinema-level quality. The subtle (arguably too subtle) horror of the first one is replaced with textual claims that time is moving at different speeds, and the “is it real or is in it the mind” component is replaced with flying tents and literal demons. Not that any of these elements would be bad on their own (and there are some sequences that do work), but Blair Witch was never able to overcome the initial hurdle of “why does this exist?” Sometimes you just need to start over; why they didn’t in this case is beyond me.