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D: Adam Wingard / 89m

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

Twenty years after his older sister, Heather, disappeared in the Black Hills woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland, James Donahue (McCune) comes into possession of a video that he believes is evidence that his sister is – somehow – still alive. Determined to find out for sure, he co-opts film student Lisa Arlington (Hernandez) – who is making a documentary about Heather’s disappearance and James’s search for answers – and friends Peter (Scott) and Ashley (Reid) into going with him. The night before they’re due to set off into the woods, they meet locals Lane (Robinson) and Talia (Curry), who agree to go with them.

Having set up camp on the first night, Lane tells the rest of the group stories he’s heard about the history of the Blair Witch. That night, noises from the surrounding woods wake James and Lisa; they discover Lane outside the camp and looking scared. The next day, the group discover lots of stick figures hanging from the trees and that they’ve slept until two o’clock. Freaked out by this, they decide to go back, but after several hours of trying to retrace their steps, they find themselves back at the campsite. Circumstances lead to Lane and Talia leaving the group and attempting to make their own way back.

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The remaining four are forced to stay there overnight. Peter disappears, and when James tries to find him he encounters Lane and Talia instead. They tell him they’ve been lost in the woods for five days. The couple are allowed to stay in camp, though Lisa is suspicious of them. James sets his alarm for seven o’clock in the morning, but when it goes off it is still pitch dark. There are also, more, larger stick figures hanging from the trees. Lane runs off, and something happens to Talia that terrifies the rest. James, Lisa and Ashley become separated. When James and Lisa find each other again, they hear what they think is Ashley screaming. With it now raining heavily, they discover the same house where James believes he’ll find his sister…

When The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, it was a massive, unexpected success. Made on a budget of $60,000, it accrued nearly $250 million worldwide and to this day, is one of the most successful independent movies ever produced. It spawned a sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) that was the antithesis of the original’s tone and approach, and which was so mangled in post-production by distributors Artisan Entertainment, that they wrecked any chances of it being even a fraction as successful as its predecessor. And now, we have a second sequel, one that ignores the events of Book of Shadows, and attempts to recreate the style and tone of the original movie.

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The key word here is “attempts”. Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have decided, somewhat wisely, to take viewers back to the Black Hills woods, but in doing so, have unwittingly reminded everyone just why The Blair Witch Project was such a major success. It was a movie that dared its audience to say this isn’t real, that three people haven’t really disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the Black Hills woods in Maryland. It also made a virtue of its found-footage approach, and was all the more impressive for it. It was a simple, very effective way of detailing the increasing terror being experienced by Heather and her two friends, Mike and Josh. But since then, the found-footage genre has been done to death and back again, and its very moribund nature is the biggest obstacle any movie maker has to overcome in tackling a movie such as this one. We’ve seen too many people who are lost in the woods and are being menaced by malevolent forces. We’ve seen too many movies where the footage consists of distressed video images that tell us nothing of what’s happening, and are often set up just to provide jump scares.

And Blair Witch is no different. Barrett and Wingard – who are no slouches when it comes to horror movies – fail to provide us with anything new, or memorable. Instead they fall back on the tried and tested formula of several other, similar movies – A Night in the Woods (2012), Evidence (2011), and Willow Creek (2013), to name but a few – and make the same mistake that everyone else makes: they don’t provide us with anyone to care about. This leaves the movie feeling more like a (very) belated cash-in designed to wring a few more dollars out of an unsuspecting fanbase and/or potentially interested public. The makers went to a lot of trouble to ensure that Blair Witch wasn’t on anyone’s radar during its production, and right up until its first showing at this year’s Comic-Con, it was known as The Woods. Perhaps they already knew this wasn’t going to be as good as they’d hoped.

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In the end, the movie falls way short of being a worthy successor to The Blair Witch Project, and it falls way short of being even an above average found-footage movie. Several times, and particularly during the events that take place in the house, there are shots that are clearly made by a third person. The editing, by Louis Cioffi, is haphazard and draining, stretching some scenes out to longer than necessary, while truncating others unnecessarily, and Wingard’s control of the material is similar in execution, with a lack of focus that undermines the narrative – such as it is – and keeps the audience at a distance.

The movie makes yet another huge mistake in showing the Blair Witch herself (however briefly), where the original didn’t have the inclination or the need, being scary enough without her – and it doesn’t help that she looks like the second cousin of the creature from [Rec] 2 (2009). When a sequel doesn’t follow through on one of the most important and effective decisions its predecessor made, then you know that no one’s paying close enough attention. And if they’re not, why should you?

Rating: 4/10 – professionally made but lacking in real smarts, Blair Witch arrives like an unwanted guest at a funeral – they knew the deceased, but can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about them; a sequel that squanders its predecessor’s legacy, it soon runs out of things with which to engage the audience and worse still, it can’t even come up with an ending that is even halfway as disturbing as the fate that befell Heather.

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