I think I can get behind this growing trend in Hollywood filmmaking to basically ignore sequels in a franchise that people don’t like. We’ve got talk, then, of a new Alien sequel that’ll scrub – or overlook – films three and four in that particular series. The X-Men franchise has rid itself of the story constraints of the likes of X-Men: The Last Stand, even to the point of taking a dig at the film (not wisely, as it turned out) in X-Men: Apocalypse.
And now the third Blair Witch film comes along, which may as well have Blair Witch 2 plastered on the poster, such is the non-existent shrift it gives to the staggeringly bad Blair Witch: Book Of Shadows.
Instead, this time we’re picking up the story from the original The Blair Witch Project, as James Allen McCune takes on the role of James Donahue, the brother of Heather, who you might recall as one of the central characters of the first film. James has a bit less snot, though. We pick up 22 years after that original film, as he leads a new bunch of characters who will ultimately trek into the woods of Burkittsville, and leave their footage behind.
Aligning itself very closely to the tone and style of the first film – as well as picking up its narrative threads – this new Blair Witch shoots out of the gate at speed, before settling down, and doing the requisite introductions and establishing character dynamics (perhaps inevitably, the least interesting part of the film). Screenwriter Simon Barrett duly just about strings enough reasons together why they’d all want to venture off on this particular trek, hobbled a little as he is by an audience that’s far more familiar with the found footage playbook than it was when the first film came around. Not for nothing does the film pack everyone in the car relatively quickly.
Barrett is reunited with director Adam Wingard, and the pair previously have given us the brilliant double bill of You’re Next and The Guest, two of my favourite horrors of recent times. They’re a little more contained here, although clearly have a determination to try a few more things to break audience familiarity. As such, the ensemble of characters is widened, allowing factions of sorts to develop. Then there are concessions to technological advances, with – for instance – the addition of a drone to the new batch of explorers’ backpacks.
But at heart, Blair Witch remains a story of people going into the woods, and things – inevitably – going wrong. And quite how that works for you will in turn depend on how effective or otherwise the found footage Blair Witch style is in your eyes. For this film is very close to the original in stylings if not quite in story. It’s to the immense credit of Wingard and Barrett that they manage to stage some really effective jumps, and in conjunction with editor Louis Cioffi, they manage to gradually build a foreboding sense that the fit is going to hit the proverbial shan.
Yet we know that. In fact, unlike the first Blair Witch film, there are moments when – as an audience member – you can’t help but be a couple of chapters ahead of the film, and what it’s trying to do. That’s not to say it’s not successful, but rather it’s more a good, solid sequel in a long-dormant film series.
What it’s not is anything as surprising and different as The Guest. Or memorable. Or leaves you wanting to preorder the disc, just to sit through it again. In fact, arguably its biggest surprise is that the film exists in the first place, given that it was cleverly made under a veil of secrecy, and teased in its early days as a film by the name of The Woods.
I did like this Blair Witch, and it’s a sequel far more fitting to the original film than Book Of Shadows ever was. It’s entertaining, pacey, interesting, and creepy. What is isn’t is anything particularly new, dramatically different, or a better Adam Wingard film than his last two movies. But it exists, and I’m pretty glad it does.
Blair Witch is in UK cinemas now.
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