Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have made two of my favorite genre films of the last several years, You’re Next and The Guest. These guys are really good at remixing genre standards into something fresh and a little weird. So when it came out earlier in the summer that they collaborated on a sequel/soft reboot of The Blair Witch Project, called simply Blair Witch, I thought that if anyone could take the Blair Witch premise and turn it into an actual good movie, it would be Wingard and Barrett. And when the chance to see Blair Witch popped up at TIFF, I took it, and after ninety minutes of nausea-inducing garbage, I conceded defeat. Wingard and Barrett did not make a good Blair Witch movie. And frankly, I don’t think anyone can. This is a sh*t premise.
Blair Witch opens with James (James Allen McCune, Shameless) packing up to go on a trip to Maryland in hopes of finding news about his sister Heather, who disappeared in the Black Hills Forest years earlier (i.e., the events of the first film). He’s accompanied by his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez, La La Land), who is a documentary student, thus giving the kids an excuse to arm themselves with cameras, making this a found footage film.
Watching Blair Witch is like being f*cking punished. Wingard is a strongly visual director, with a flair for choosing shots that combine the odd and the threatening, and who can, in a traditionally photographed film, make the most mundane moments frightening. But found footage renders all that skill redundant, and we spend most of our time staring at the forest floor or leaves as the kids wander around screaming each other’s names, exactly like in the original. Wingard only gets to do one genuinely scary scene, which is a nice piece of body horror, because the bulk of the movie is just incoherent yelling in the woods. I do not understand hiring a guy like Wingard to direct this sh*t. It’s like getting Ghandi to moderate your model UN.
James and Lisa are joined by their friends, Peter (Brandon Scott, Wreck It Ralph) and Ashley (Broadway actor Corbin Reid), and together they meet up with local Burkittsville conspiracy theorists Lane (Wes Robinson, Roadies) and Talia (Valorie Curry, House of Lies). Lane and Talia are Goth kids who have a Confederate flag in their house, which makes them The Worst, and the one enjoyable moment in Blair Witch is the look on Peter’s face when he sees the Confederate flag.
Once in the woods the movie just rehashes the original, complete with panicked breathing, under-lit photography, snapping twigs, and so. Much. Goddamn. Screaming. Poor Barrett, who is a clever screenwriter, is forced to write page after page of “JAMES: [Screaming] Peter!” And serious warning here—this movie WILL make you motion sick. I’m not particularly sensitive to that and even so, I almost couldn’t handle it.
The cinematography is f*cking GARBAGE, which is always the case with found footage. The cinematographer is Robby Baumgartner, who also lensed The Guest, which is just another insult, that this guy who shot that memorably visual movie is now stuck photographing f*cking leaves. Does anyone actually like this? Who really enjoys movies that look like they were made inside a garbage disposal?
There is no good Blair Witch movie to be made. If Wingard & Barrett can’t do it—and they cannot—then no one can. Had they been allowed to shoot the movie traditionally, abandoning the found footage premise, perhaps they could have salvaged something and made an interesting, scary movie. But they’re stuck with this bullsh*t format and bullsh*t story and the result is deeply unpleasant with the bonus of making you actually nauseous. If you want a scary movie about people stuck in the woods, try The Witch (it’s on demand). Blair Witch, though, is a hard pass.