A nice corrective to 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2—though still not as formally ingenious as the original The Blair Witch Project—this third installment finds a group of young adults back in the Maryland woods, this time in search of the decrepit house that is one of the last things seen in the found footage of the original.
Directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest), Blair Witch fully embraces the found-footage aesthetic, even opening with titles once again claiming that everything we see came from cameras found in those woods. From there, the movie turns the conceit up a few notches. Whereas the first film featured only two cameras, here the characters—and there are a lot more of them—each wears an “earpiece cam” at all times, in addition to the various cameras that they hold. There’s also a drone and webcam that come into play.
In many ways this is less effective. Wingard and his collaborators may have bought themselves a certain amount of freedom with the extra cameras (we can’t keep up with them, so we don’t question the traditional establishing shots or convenient perspectives that are occasionally employed). Yet missing is the first film’s disciplined minimalism. Meanwhile, no one in this cast—which includes James Allen McCune as James, the younger brother of the female filmmaker in the first film—has the raw authenticity of the original trio, making Blair Witch a far less compelling exploration of interpersonal dynamics under extreme stress.
Still, Blair Witch has its clever moments, including the meta deliciousness of the opening scene. We’re watching the image of someone running through the infamous house at dark, and then the camera cuts to a video camera’s perspective of James watching said footage on YouTube. Found footage of found footage! There’s also suspenseful use of the drone when it gets caught in the tree, and we see its disastrous attempted retrieval from the drone’s perspective.
Blair Witch also makes the somewhat bold choice of forgoing the original’s minimalism in its last third and adding some maximalist horror touches. Keep in mind that in Project we never see, but only hear (or imagine) the supernatural threat. Here, however, tents go flying into the air, something monstrous uproots an entire tree and the climax gives us a glimpse of a figure that would give The Witch’s witch pause. Add a bit of body horror when one of the campers cuts her foot and suffers a skeevy infection, and Blair Witch sufficiently honors the original film while also making a queasy impression of its own.