By Jarrod Jones. One of the shitter parts of acknowledging this year’s Blair Witch as a film is that we have to call it what it is — a “rebooquel.” One part sequel, one part shiny, 21st Century reboot, one part my dreams shattered into a thousand pieces that I simply can’t be arsed to reassemble, Adam Wingard’s once tantalizing secret project stands revealed as just a shallow brand name followup to a property that’s been decomposing for over sixteen years. What’s even more galling is that acknowledging this movie for what it is is to accept that we now have to create names for what movies are anymore.
In most circumstances concerning any rebooquel, the most you can hope for in terms of actual depth is a mile wide and an inch deep, but in the case of Blair Witch 2.0 you’ll find it’s more of an immersive experience than its otherwise infinitely superior predecessor. That’s only thanks to the enhanced sophistication of affordable digital cameras, so keep in mind when I say “immersive,” I mean it in the sense that you’re still standing knee-deep in the shallow end of the pool, only this time you’re sharing the space with six obnoxious kids and it’s pretty clear that the water has been getting warmer incrementally over the course of the last 89 minutes.
Yeah, Blair Witch: Brought To You By Canon Cameras is a mercifully short movie, and likely the best part about this movie is that little of it will stay with you once it’s over. Whatever fond memories you have of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will remain intact even if you bother to see this drivel, though that’s not saying much — remember, that little marvel of independent cinema was laid flat by its corporate cash-grab cousin, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, a movie, I probably have to remind you, that didn’t even have a fucking book in it.
Wingard and his screenwriting partner Simon Barrett — who gave us better examples of terror with You’re Next and The Guest — construct a Blair Witch Project-themed rat maze and set six conventionally attractive youths loose inside of it. There’s less ground to cover here, probably because most everyone who will see this movie already know the score: kids go deep in the woods, get lost, lose it on each other, divide, disappear, find a house that ought to be called “Nope Manor,” and die in the basement at the hands of something elementally evil.
As for the titular entity itself, Blair Witch can’t help but let us catch a few glimpses of it at certain key moments. I use the pronoun “it” because that seems more appropriate here — Wingard approaches the legend as a typical movie monster, a spindly thing that closely resembles a cross between those “sexy” murder nurses from Silent Hill 2 and that imagination-killing Blair Witch figurine released by McFarlane Toys in 2001.
Which is fitting, because at no point does the film let its audience fill in the spooky gaps with their own imagination. Instead Wingard, who simply has to have better things to do than this, lets his victims’ noticeably-spot-on camera work do the job for us. That means he has to pad the running time with really obnoxious jump scares (seriously, nobody calls out before abruptly entering the frame), a claustrophobic tunnel sequence added for length (that Wingard uses to vaguely echo Heather Donahue’s iconic “I’m sorry” sequence from the original), and a bit of wholly unnecessary body horror because its 2016 and people just can’t walk out of a horror movie without cooing “ewww” at least once.
You might be wondering if I was gonna get around to talking about the cast, but I’m not going to spend much effort going into the hows and whys of their motivation primarily because Wingard and Barrett never do either. The main four characters, one of whom is supposed to be Heather Donohue’s little brother, which fine, whatever — they scarcely register onscreen and are ably eclipsed by the presence of two spunky locals who wedge themselves into the movie with a legitimate interest in the Blair Witch legend. How novel. Why couldn’t the movie have been about them? What we got instead is one of the bigger shames of this year — Adam Wingard made a low-rent slasher movie out of a spooky ghost story.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
Produced by Keith Calder, Roy Lee, Steven Schneider and Jessica Wu.
Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry.
Rated ‘R’ but just barely.
3.5 out of 10