Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, I was privileged to be in the one audience ever that thought they were seeing a movie called The Woods, but ended up seeing the third Blair Witch film. It was a shocking, awesome reveal that was long planned by the studio. And the best part was that the movie is good — and very, very scary.
Somehow Lionsgate had put one of the most influential horror franchises in film history into the hands of two of our most promising and exciting young filmmakers without anyone knowing. Blair Witch, as the film is now called, was directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett. They're the team behind the underrated genre films You're Next and The Guest, and now they have created sequel that pays tribute to the original but also elevates it in ways that only 17 years of space could allow.
The premise is that 15 years after the original Blair Witch Project was released, a new batch of footage was found. This footage shows Heather's (the girl from the original) brother finding a video on YouTube which he believes shows his sister still alive in the woods. He then recruits his friends to head out and find her. Things do not go well.
While the second film in the franchise, Blair Witch: Book of Shadows, isn't exactly ignored, it's not referenced either. This is a film that tells a direct follow-up to the first film. And to do so, the long passage of time is completely necessary. It allows a younger brother to grow up and, more importantly, technology to reach a place where Wingard can do very different things with his cameras. Mainly, the film is shown though ear cameras (basically Bluetooth headsets with cameras on them), drone footage, and a super HD SLR. It all looks very clean, and mostly plausible.
From there, Blair Witch takes some time to set up the story, characters, and a mythology expanded from the first film before it gets into real scare territory. Once it does, though, the scares gradually increase in intensity leading to an edge-of-your-seat finale that will have you watching through your fingers. It's a legitimately terrifying film.
One problem with Blair Witch though is the film's mythology is more interesting than the characters. Most of the characters in the film don't have much of an arc. They're there to serve their role in the film: joker, sceptic, cameraperson, etc. but not much else.
Thankfully, the mythology is a treasure trove if you're into that sort of thing. Barrett's script takes so many intriguing but underdeveloped moments from the original film and gives them a fresh, scary context. Nothing is explained per say but things are given a nice expansion. There are even some potential sci-fi strands that, upon my first viewing, I don't quite understand, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.
There's simply a lot to like in Blair Witch. Not everything works, not everything is explained, and several things — like why the characters seemingly sleep with cameras on the faces — are just completely ignored. Nevertheless, the way the film expands the Blair Witch mythology in a way that's entertaining and also incredibly scary is just too good to ignore. This is the Blair Witch movie fans have been waiting for for years.
Blair Witch opens internationally September 16.