Blair Witch Review: There's a Scary Secret Hiding in These Woods
There are very few things that mean as much, be it good or bad, to a horror fanatic than The Blair Witch Project. There is no doubt it was a monumental movie in the history of horror, and it started the found footage craze that is still going on today. Now, nearly 20 years later, Lionsgate has made a sequel to that movie, which was originally called The Woods, but what we now know is actually called Blair Witch, and it is without question the best sequel that you had no idea you needed or wanted.
The sequel picks up in 2016 and sticks to the timeline and the lore established by the original movie. Blair Witch centers on a group of teenagers who decide to venture into the Black Hills Forest, where they are trying to figure out what happened to Heather (the girl from the first Blair Witch) nearly 20 years ago, who just so happens to be James' (James Allen McCune) sister. As they venture deeper into the woods, they realize all is not right, and things get progressively more strange, and they realize they most definitely are not alone.
I was treated to the premiere screening of Blair Witch at San Diego Comic-Con, which at that point director Adam Wingard and Lionsgate were still calling The Woods. It is almost unfair that the world won't be able to experience the movie in that way, but that is the nature of the beast. There was a mix of an almost audible groan and curious surprise when the movie quickly revealed itself to actually be a long overdue Blair Witch sequel. Those concerned quickly had their worries squashed, and those curious were quickly rewarded for their curiosity. Not only is this a worthy sequel to one of the most iconic horror movies of all-time, it is one of the most terrifying horror movies of recent memory and quite possibly one of the best that the found footage genre has ever produced.
Some horror movies can get away with just being fun, but it takes some pretty big balls to sneakily produce a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, and the people behind such a bold move had to deliver in a big way. They absolutely did. The movie isn't afforded the luxury that the original was in 1998. Nobody really knew what a found footage movie was at the time, so there was very much an "Is this real? Is it not? What am I watching?" kind of thing that simply could not be replicated. Even having to jump over that hurdle and having to contend with the oversaturation of the found footage movement, the movie delivers in a way that is shocking, even though the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, with the title reveal.
Anyone with any skepticism about Blair Witch should abandon it quickly. It is understandable that in the modern Hollywood landscape that something like this could seem like a shameless, quick cash grab. I assure you, it is not. Adam Winger has an excellent track record in horror, having directed You're Next and The Guest, as well as contributing some of the best segments to both V/H/S and V/H/S 2. Both he and Lionsgate had a very good reason to make this movie, with the help of a very good script from Simon Barrett. The narrative of this movie not only makes sense, which is rare for a horror movie, but it is also compelling and really helps to drive home everything at the ending, which is unbelievably satisfying.
But this is a horror movie we're talking about. Not only that, but this is a nearly 20-year-old sequel to The Blair Witch Project, a movie that already had an atrocious sequel. The real question is, is it scary? And the answer is, holy (insert expletive of choice here) is it scary. Like many found footage horror movies, the beginning is a bit slow, but not without levity and plenty of set up for what is coming later. However, once things start hitting the fan, they absolutely don't slow down for a second and it is pure horror at its finest. The third act and conclusion of the movie is especially outstanding and there are two things you will be treated to: One, the single scariest house that has ever been put to film. Yes, it is the house from the original, but a much more in-depth look. Two, one of the if not the single greatest "Don't go in there!" moments from a horror movie ever. It is so much better than anyone would expect it to be.
It is somewhat astonishing that nobody has attempted a reboot, remake or sequel to The Blair Witch Project in the 16 years since Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows came out. Lionsgate waited until they had the right guys to do it, and viewers are treated to the best possible experience as a result. If you are not completely done with found footage horror movies, and even if you are I encourage you to not be, you should absolutely go see Blair Witch. If you're ok with being scared that is. On the flipside, if you can't handle something that is genuinely terrifying, stay home, because you will not sleep easy. This is a movie that both honors the original movie that inspired it, and stands entirely on its own merit, and that is a really difficult thing to accomplish. Especially in the horror genre. Straight up, this movie is a home run and maybe one of the best horror sequels of all-time. Blair Witch (or should we say The Woods? opens everywhere on September 16.