1999 gave the film world possibly the greatest ever marketing campaign for a film called The Blair Witch Project which cost a meagre $60,000 and went on to make $248m not a bad return by anyone’s standard. It invented a new genre, the found footage film and a sequel was quickly rushed through. It was rubbish and its taken over 15 years for anyone to muster up the courage to try and resurrect the franchise and low budget horror film supremo Adam Wingard and his writing partner Simon Barrett have taken up the challenge. Brave or bonkers?
This picks up some years later with the brother of missing Heather still wanting to know what exactly had happened to his sister and her 2 friends who were never found. Whereas the original had the film making trio packing the most basic equipment this sequel gives them everything bar a native American tracker so here they have digital cameras, 2 way radios, GPS and even their own drone to give them a bird’s eye view all of which in the fine tradition of mobile phones not getting a signal when most need are destined to fail when it inevitably starts to go awry. So, along with his girlfriend the almost obligatory film maker they take their sceptical friend to meet another couple who have purportedly found previously undiscovered tapes which have been uploaded onto the web. They agree to take them into the woods and show them where they found the tapes to try and discover his sister’s fate. All this seems a little futile as the film makes clear that there was a massive manhunt when the original trio went missing so their quest seems inevitably doomed from the off. But off they go anyway to do their best. What could go wrong? In short everything. When it’s found that the couple leading them into the woods have possibly been setting them up it doesn’t take long for the increasingly fractious group to disintegrate and their hope of getting out of the woods is further jeopardized when they break the first rule of horror by splitting up into groups.
With the film sagging slightly in the middle director Wingard grabs it by the scruff of the neck and rachets up the tension. From early on he’s used some great sound effects and what it implies in the imagination is far more scary than anything you would see. It’s the suggestion and expectation which gives the film many of its best scares and Wingard has made some unsettling sequences none more so than where one character struggles through an impossibly tight tunnel in an unbearably claustrophobic scene made worse by the dilemma of losing the camera and it’s light which is just out of reach and is unable to move forward and equally can’t retreat. It’s one of those sequences that if you’re claustrophobic makes incredibly uncomfortable viewing.
Together with his co writer Simon Barrett they’ve written an effective follow up which comfortably and rightfully ignores the existence of the second film but adds little to the mythology and whereas the power of the first film was through suggestion this only partially adheres to that and does give you glimpses of what may be the Blair Witch which diminishes some of the films power. But the film is very much about the journey and incrementally cranks up the scares until its climactic scenes back in the old house and arguably this is more of the same old, same old which many will find little new here after 20 years of found footage films.