[Screen It]


(2016) (James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez) (R)

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Horror: A small group of people enter supposedly haunted woods in hopes of finding one man's sister who mysteriously disappeared years ago.
Back when he was four-years-old, James (JAMES ALLEN McCUNE) had to deal with his older sister mysteriously disappearing somewhere in the Black Hills woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. She and two other student filmmakers were there to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. They were never found, but their footage of scary encounters with something seemingly supernatural was. Now, new footage has been found including a brief glimpse of a figure in a dilapidated house in those same woods.

James is certain it's his sister and thus heads there to look for her. Accompanying him is his friend, Lisa (CALLIE HERNANDEZ), who's going to document his search; his childhood friend Peter (BRANDON SCOTT) who doesn't believe anything about the legend; and his girlfriend, Ashley (CORBIN REID). They meet a local couple, Lane (WES ROBINSON) and Talia (VALORIE CURRY), who reportedly found and posted that new footage, and those two want to tag along in exchange for showing James where they found the tape.

The six then enter the woods and set up camp for the night, only to have spooky things happen. From then on, James and the others must contend with an increasing amount of scary and possibly supernatural stuff occurring to them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In today's world where mobile tech is pretty much omnipresent anywhere you go, it's somewhat quaint to think about the status of technology years ago. For instance, in 1999, AOL was the king daddy of the Internet and buying most everyone, and was about to execute the ill-fated Time Warner purchase deal. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram weren't around for sharing thoughts, photos or videos. No touch-screen phones were publically available yet and cameras on phones were still a few years away. As was the introduction of GoPro cameras, while drones were still better known for being robots in the "Star Wars" films than unmanned aerial vehicles.

And thus when "The Blair Witch Project" put a number of amateur filmmakers in the woods in hopes of investigating and documenting the titular legend, they were armed with now ancient cameras, all of which added to the "found footage" aura the flick helped create.

The beauty of the movie, though, was the way in which the writers/directors -- Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez -- put their small cast in the woods of Maryland with GPS units to get to their next location where they'd find notes for how to improvise their next scene, all while shooting the footage themselves.

With lots of surprises in store for them courtesy of the filmmakers, in addition to the increasing physical strain, lack of sleep and so on, that innovative filmmaking created an intense and palpable portrayal of real fear that audiences could sense and thus experience while watching the film.

While I found the daytime, walking and talking scenes just okay, the nighttime sequences, where more horror and terror was implied than ever shown, ended up being incredibly effective in inducing sweatiness and raising goose bumps. Unfortunately, that was followed by a horrible sequel the following year -- "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" -- that effectively killed the series.

Well, like some movie monster or ghoul that escapes from its grave, the Blair Witch and accompanying film have been resurrected in this year's more simply titled "Blair Witch." Pretty much ignoring the initial follow-up, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have fashioned this as a direct sequel where a young man (James Allen McCune) learns from an Internet video that his sister, long believed to be dead, may, after all, somehow still be alive in some certain Maryland woods.

Those, of course, would be the setting of the first supernatural incident, and that sister would be none other than Heather Donahue (one of the trio from the first flick). With his friends (Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) in tow, they set off to investigate and end up meeting a local couple (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who were the ones responsible for "finding" and posting the video that got the man's attention.

From a creative standpoint regarding films that worked as one-off experiences where it's best to let viewers question what happened next, I'm not a fan of sequels that come off as nothing more than cash grabs. And that's certainly what this appears to be as once the premise is set, we pretty much have the same film as last time around.

Sure, there are some differences (including a decently effective, claustrophobia-inducing cave scene) and the included tech is, well, more high tech for this one (including the expected use of a drone and such). But the basic story, barf-o-rama shaky cam movement and overall found footage scenario have been done to death so many times in the intervening years that none of it seems fresh this time. And that newer tech isn't used as effectively as it might have.

For instance, the drone is mainly used for going up and looking for a way out of the woods, but ends up stuck in a tree and results in some later stupid behavior. Why not have it chase after the witch or explore the inevitable haunted house? And the filmmakers certainly could have had some misdirection fun where a critter (possibly rabid) could have picked up one of the earpiece cameras that each of the main four characters wears. While most if not all of the film is shown from that perspective, having such point of view footage of something lurking about, coming at and then chasing after one or more characters could have induced more chills and thrills.

And that's what the flick needs, as there's only so much one can do with moments of "Did you hear that?" followed by more sounds and then running through the woods at night with a flashlight and bouncy camera footage. Yes, things finally pick up when a few characters enter an old and dilapidated house at night with narrow hallways, plenty of doors and such, but much of that plays out like any horror-based, first person perspective video game where you move from one dimly lit room to the next, waiting for something to jump out at you.

Certainly better than the first sequel but not as effective at inducing terror and fright as the original flick, "Blair Witch" is in need of better scare creativity -- and camera stabilization. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 13, 2016 / Posted September 16, 2016

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