Around 20 years ago, Heather Donahue recorded a teary-eyed snotologue before disappearing beneath the ominous canopy of the Maryland woods.
We join her curious brother James, who has persuaded a group of friends to explore the fearful forest, as he tries to decipher the sinister enigma surrounding his sibling’s disappearance.
Executed in just 8 days, The Blair Witch Project is still a record-breaking picture in terms of budget/box office ratio, and the 1999 phenomenon became an intrepid pathfinder in the transmigration of the modern independent horror film.
It also claimed more dubious honours, such as transmitting the pathogenic vomit virus that is shaky cam, whilst single-handedly blowing the locks off the found footage floodgates.
A direct sequel was unavoidable, the only surprise being how long it took for the iron to heat up before this seminal cash cow could be rebranded.
In charge of rekindling the smouldering evil of Elly Kedward are genre poster boy Adam Wingard (V/H/S) in the director’s chair and crack scribe Simon Barrett (Frankenfish). A popularist dream team that has gelled admirably in the past, You’re Next, The Guest, A Horrible Way to Die, and things are no different in what was always going to be something of a high-wire act.
Wingard’s direction is unerringly focused and retains a concrete clench on the fluctuating time frame and white-knuckle chaos.
Barrett’s screenplay crackles along with panache and is sweetened by a light dusting of Sci-fi head-fuckery. Determined to be referential without being regurgitative, he seeks to expand on the core movie lore rather than coast lazily on its coat tails.
Robby Baumgartner’s cinematography is methodic yet fluid, seamlessly operating within the boundaries of its found footage premise. Wisely, the titular hag is never fully revealed on screen but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any otherworldly monstrosities to gawp at.
Despite the groundswell of vitriol from genre fans the film is not just a hastily thrown together studio paycheck but a carefully crafted horror funhouse constructed from a freshly revitalised blueprint. The filmmakers clearly have high esteem for their predecessors and the pioneering spirit that nourished the original.
Just like The VVitch last year, The Blair Witch Project was whipped raw by a huge chunk of the horror community for being far too pedestrian. Many viewers were lulled into soporific apathy by the inertia of the narrative, long before the low-fi fear freeze of its final payoff.
Ironically, this premium paced sequel has faced a similar backlash for daring to unapologetically nail its colours to the hyper-horror mast.
The way Blair Witch cleverly cannibalises itself by becoming more POV-centric in relation to the increasingly restricted locations is simply stunning – funnelling the helpless audience into a jaw-droppingly claustrophobic corral.
The next swig of the poisoned challis for Wingard and Barrett is an English-language remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s legendary I Saw the Devil. If nothing else their time spent in the clutches of the Blair Witch will have tanned their hides ready to rebuff the pitchforks and flaming torches of the enraged re-make mob.
A battered victim of its own hype-hate this resourceful chiller does not set out to deliver a paint by numbers rehash, nor does it pretend to be anything other than a compact thrill ride.
Transcribing its minimalist plot gymnastics into the language of pure entertainment, Blair Witch proves to be one of the most unfairly maligned horror movies of recent times.
| Bradley Hadcroft
Supernatural, Horror, POV Thriller | USA/Canada, 2016 | 89 mins | 15 |Lions Gate Home Entertainment| UK DVD 23 Jan. 2017 | Dir. Adam Wingard| Cast. Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry, James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez | BUY
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