When I heard about Blair Witch I was more intrigued than interested. The original back in 1999 was a phenomenon. Marketed by a clever online campaign, the first of its kind, and snowballing out of control with its word of mouth. It was the film everyone was talking about, and everyone was going to see, even those who didn’t go to the cinema often. When it finally hit UK screens in October 1999, three months after its North American release and nine months after its Sundance debut, it sold out. I went to see it on a Sunday evening, a couple of days after its release. Not only was the screening I intended to see sold out but the next two for that evening were also sold out. Instead I ended up seeing John Carpenter’s Vampires, also released that weekend. A film so ordinary and average it had sat on the shelf for over a year. I wasn’t a terrible film and I understand it made back its $20million budget on its American release giving it a small world wide profit and resulting in two direct-to-video sequels (Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and Vampires: The Turning (2005)). In contrast The Blair Witch Project mage around quarter of a billion dollars form a budget of around $60,000. While The Blair Witch Project represented something new, Vampires was very much the old, a story of a vampire hunter that had been made to look dated in the extreme by Blade (1998). I did get to see The Blair Witch Project a week later and remember enjoying it. A genuinely creepy horror that left just enough to the imagination. It was also the first found footage film for years so was fresh and original.
This isn’t the first time an attempt has been made to cash in on the success of The Blair Witch Project. Just a year after the first film, a sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000). It had a good concept; set in the real world a year after the first film, a group of fans of the film visit the filming locations. Dropping the shaky cam found footage in favour of a regular film. Sadly the film wasn’t very good. I saw it on its initial release but haven’t seen it since. I seem to remember it being pretty rubbish but not the worst film ever made as some people labelled it at the time. It made around $50million from a budget of about $15 million.
So that brings us onto Blair Witch. Like Book of Shadows the concept is ok. Set in the present day but back in the world of the first movie. They have reverted to the found footage genre, but have found a way to make the continuous filming a little more plausible. The most interesting thing about the film was how it came out of nowhere. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett shot the film in secrecy with Vancouver doubling for Burkittsville, Maryland of the first two films. The film was tiled The Woods and even had a poster and a trailer, then at San Diego Comic Con, the first proper trailer was shown revealing the film to be Blair Witch. The subterfuge made the whole project interesting, the world has changed a lot since 1999, and to try and market a film in a slightly different way was in keeping with the original film. I was also interested to see what Wingard and Barrett would come up with after their impressive previous outing, The Guest (2014).
There isn’t actually much wrong with Blair Witch, there just isn’t anything new or interesting about it. Had it come out in 1999, it would have been fine. That’s the problem, there is just nothing new, original or interesting about it. It has been too long since I have seen the first film to call it a note for note remake, however it certainly hits all the key notes and feels very much like a reboot not a sequel. This isn’t always a bad thing, it didn’t harm The Force Awakens, but Blair Witch needs more.
But not all is bad, there are still decent horror films being made, last month’s Lights Out this month’s Don’t Breathe are among recent highlights. I went into Don’t Breath with a little trepidation despite a strong trailer I was a little cautions given director Fede Alvarez’s previous film, the somewhat pointless remake; Evil Dead (2103). With a lean 88 minute runtime Don’t Breathe is a perfect horror thriller. It is full of tension, has a contemporary social commentary and just enough of a nasty underbelly.