However accomplished it might be technically, no sequel or remake of “The Blair Witch Project” could hope to equal the impact of the original. Not only has the “found footage” format become tired and cliched, but the sense of surprise about what’s going on has long since evaporated; and the incredible marketing campaign that vaunted the 1999 cheapie (reportedly made for just $60,000) into the cult stratosphere could never be replicated. So it should come as no shock that despite the involvement of a talented director and a bigger budget, the chills generated by Adam Wingard’s part sequel, part remake are as attenuated as the title. The surprise is how absolutely awful “Blair Witch” is, not just by comparison to the first picture but to horror movies in general.
The plot is just a rehash of the first picture, except that the leader of the expedition into the supposedly haunted Maryland woods this time is James (James Allen McCune), the brother of Heather (Heather Donahue), the girl who disappeared in the initial installment. Wanting to search for her, he enlists his girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a film school freak who thinks the jaunt will be a great subject for her class project and so brings along an array of cameras, one even affixed to a drone (a new touch of which nothing is made). They’re accompanied by James’s childhood pal Peter (Brandon Scott), the skeptical one, and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid). They’re also forced to add two more people to their number—local witch-heads Lance (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), whose help they need to locate the spot where Heather’s famous footage of her trek was found.
It’s not long into the journey before spooky things start happening, first strange sounds and then those little stick figures dangling from trees. One of the hikers injures a foot, and it starts getting infected—or worse. Camaraderie breaks down and the sextet splits into smaller groups. Everybody gets lost and starts walking around in circles, and an inexplicable time swerve keeps the sun from rising. Finally the hikers stumble upon that dilapidated house where the first film ended, and where this one does too, but only after some protracted running around.
“Blair Witch” suffers from all sorts of fatal flaws—the acting is atrocious across the board, the dialogue, which largely consists of characters yelling out one another’s names when they get separated, sounds badly improvised (why screenwriter Simon Barrett would want to take credit for it is beyond comprehension), and—most debilitating of all—the visuals are horrible. Yes, the idea is that all the footage is shot by the hikers via little cameras mounted on their persons, but the result is so fuzzy, slipshod and sloppily edited that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s going on half the time. (It’s equally incomprehensible why DP Robby Baumgartner and editor Louis Cioffi would want to put this on their resumes.) Quite simply, despite an absence of graphic gore (that infected foot wound is about as bad as things get), this is one of the ugliest movies you’ll ever see; and the amazing thing is that the makers probably spent millions ensuring it would look every bit as crappy as the sixty-grand 1999 picture did.
The result is a decided setback for Wingard, who made the clever horror parody “The Guest”—it has far less in common with that picture than its predecessor, the formulaic home-invasion slasher opus “You’re Next.” The one area in which he excels here is aural rather than visual: he composed the synthesizer score which, in combination with the sound design (and heard over the good speaker system) is the one element of the movie that works, delivering whatever jolts it has to offer, as cheap as they might be.
When it comes to whether or not one should plunk down cash to see “Blair Witch,” perhaps James offers the best critical comment when he simply says to Lisa toward the close, “Don’t Look.” With a movie as bad as this one, that’s sage advice indeed.