Earlier this week it was announced by Deadline that Adam Wingard would be helming a “re-imagining” of John Woo’s 1997 action thriller, Face/Off. The news broke the (Film) Twittersphere and sent people into a frenzy for the next 48 hours.
Would be a remake!? Would it be a sequel!? Many speculated and had their theories and others were left disgruntled as the thought of a remake of one of Hollywood’s most beloved films. Nobody really knew the score until Wingard later cleared up on his Instagram account that he, “would NEVER re-imagine or remake FACE/OFF”. Further adding, “Simon Barrett and I are writing a SEQUEL!”.
This isn’t the first time that Wingard and Barrett have navigated a film sequel. Back in 2016, the tag team took audiences back to the Burkittsville, Maryland for the first time in 17 years with a sequel to legendary 1999 found footage horror, The Blair Witch Project. Simply titled Blair Witch and mercifully for fans of the iconic original movie, it ignored the events of 2000 follow-up Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Met with mixed reviews and considered a box office disappointment against its native predecessor, as well as compared to their previous efforts as a workforce, Blair Witch wasn’t the home run I’d imagine they were hoping. However, there are some major critics-to-fans discrepancies. I for one loved what they did! Using fresh(er) technology and expanding on the further into the Blair Witch lore, Wingard and Barrett gave audiences a very decent, very entertaining and genuinely scary horror film. Given the time of its release and that the “found footage” trope had been done to death throughout the early 2010s, Blair Witch felt fresh! It had the capability to make your palms sweat and your heart race.
After the lukewarm reception of Blair Witch, Adam and Simon seemingly parted ways with each other, as next up for Wingard was 2017’s manga adaptation, Death Note. And unfortunately it was yet another (critical) flop for Adam. Accused “whitewashing” and “Americanising” the source material, Death Note received mostly negative reviews. Original creators of the manga material, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata praised the film stating, “In a good way, it both followed and diverged from the original work so the film can be enjoyed, of course by not only the fans, but also by a much larger and wider audience”.
Whilst Wingard was continuing to strive towards glory, Barrett had a relatively quiet few years. In 2017, he was the writer for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang cinematographer Michael Barrett’s directorial debut, Temple which was met with mostly negative reviews. However in 2019 it was announced that Barrett would make his directorial debut with Séance. Starring Suki Waterhouse, the film is to be set in an all-girls school haunted by a vengeful spirit and is yet to be released.
Clearly not discouraged by the spectacular unsuccess of his previous effort, Wingard was announced as the director for a Godzilla vs. Kong movie in May of 2017, a sequel to both Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of Monsters. When the news was initially reported I was both confused and excited. How could this young filmmaker who’s career launched within the mumblecore movement, making low-budget indie horror movies now have blossomed for him to be tied to multimillion dollar monster movie for a one of the biggest production companies in Hollywood? The answer: Having the enthusiasm and determination to develop as a filmmaker and be comfortable enough to take himself out of his creative comfort zone. Back in 2017, Wingard spoke to Indiewire stating, “Each film that I’ve done has been a step up budgetarily and it’s allowed me to mature as a director. The good thing about those monster movies is that they do all feel like auteur pieces in as lot of ways. I definitely expect to give my stamp on it”. And though we’re yet able to witness that “stamp” on Godzilla vs. Kong as it isn’t released until late March, you can’t deny that level of self-believe is commendable.
After five years of being separated and their careers being on a somewhat creative plunge, there’s never been a better time for Adam and Simon to reunite and prepare to conquer the film world again! Dominating the mid 2000s with their micro-budget “mumblegore” horror flicks and then the 2010s with their (slightly) bigger budget, slasher and thriller films, You’re Next and The Guest, why shouldn’t the pair tackle another already-established and cherished Hollywood film?
With what Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett set out to achieve in 2016 with Blair Witch was undeniably admirable. As one of the most polarising bodies of work in film history, The Blair Witch Project was always going to be a tough moment to capitalise on. Point proven with Joe Berlinger’s disgracefully woeful Book of Shadows “metafiction” sequel. And although many critics and fans alike have called Wingard and Barrett’s effort a rehashing of the original film, they did still manage to add a hell of a lot of depth to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez‘s primary concept.
The most gobsmacking, “WHAT THE F**K!?” moments of Blair Witch was its blink-of-an-eye-quick reveal of “the witch”. Well, what we can only assume is the witch. A tall, long-limbed creature that stalks characters Lisa and James in the same house that original trio of Heather, Mike and Josh all seemingly met their end. Though it moment was “blink-of-an-eye-quick”, whether it pleased fans or disappointed them, it gave us a glimpse into what may (or may not) have caused those famous (and snotty) scenes of sheer terror and dread for Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard. The house that it takes place in has been revamped by Wingard and Barrett. As opposed to it being a empty, derelict house in the middle of the woods with a spooky basement, it’s now an empty, derelict multifaceted, interactive haunted house attraction…in the middle of those same woods…with the same spooky basement. When I first saw Blair Witch at the cinema and that dreaded house came into the plot, I knew it was time to fasten my seatbelt, clench my buttocks and prepare myself for one hell of a ride! Though I absolutely adore Myrick and Sánchez‘s infamous original, you just aren’t treated with that same level of high intensity anxiety.
Furthermore, the time and space warp element of Blair Witch adds a profound level to the Blair Witch lore. Things weren’t as straightforward for these adventurers as just losing a map, constantly screaming at each other and walking around in circles. No, they find themselves aimlessly walking in circles and being completely disorientated by the constant shift in time as “the witch” has some sort of control over the Black Hills Forest. She/they/it is able to mimic the time and space around Lisa, James and co. Real witchy-type spells and powers. And whether you prefer the more realistic, mockumentary approach or the newer science fiction, supernatural spin, you cannot deny that Adam and Simon tried something new and bold to revitalise the backstory.
So before you completely dismiss the idea of a new entry into the Face/Off canon or want to have another whinge that “Hollywood is running out of ideas”, give Wingard and Barrett a chance. It’s been 24 years since the release of the John Travolta/Nic Cage cat-and-mouse action movie. Maybe 25 years by the time it actually surfaces. Perhaps it’s time for a reinvigoration. The possibilities of where the duo could take it are positively, indefinitely endless.