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Review: 'Blair Witch' will scare and delight fans of the original film

Posted Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 5:07 PM Central

by John Couture

On July 16, 1999, a phenomenon was born. On that date, The Blair Witch Project debuted in theaters and the term "found footage" found its way into our lexicon. While the merits of that accomplishment can be debated, one thing is indisputable, The Blair Witch Project was a cultural phenomenon that forever changed film.

While many found footage films that followed weren't worth the celluloid they were filmed on, the original Blair Witch Project remains a classic case study of capturing lightning in a bottle. The film was made for around $60,000 and went on to gross over $140 million at the box office, making it one of the biggest box office hits as a percentage of budget ever made.

So, a sequel was a given, right? Well, yes and no. The problem with doing a sequel to The Blair Witch Project was the very viral nature that made it such a success in the first place. The marketing strategy of the film was to convince people that the found footage was actually real and that people were watching a true story.

If you're younger and those last words seem incredulous to you, let me remind you that this film came out when the Internet was still in its nascent stages. Heck, 1999 was the year that we came online officially as a website and actually we owe quite a bit of our fame and traffic numbers to The Blair Witch Project.

Some of you might remember that when you rented the VHS copy of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, a little ad for our site popped up before the film started. Of course, like that Sinbad genie movie, this might just be a thing in my head, but I know that I remember seeing it in front of the live product when it was released, even though I can't seem to find it now on YouTube. Instead, I did find it in front of Traffic.

Anyhow, our site exploded the day that The Blair Witch Project came out on VHS, so the anecdotal evidence will have to suffice. Regardless, this film holds a soft spot in my heart, so any sequel better pass muster.

One film that didn't live up to the original was the rushed cash grab "sequel" Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows. That film wasn't so much a sequel as it was an abysmal stain on the entire horror genre... and that's saying a lot. It was terrible, impossible to watch, and now you know why it took 17 years to get a proper sequel to The Blair Witch Project.

The question is, did too much time pass by? Or, is it like bellbottom jeans, that since so much time has passed, they are back in fashion again? The answer is a bit mixed.

Obviously, it's so much better than Book of Shadows, that fans will finally rejoice to know that it's no longer the last installment of the franchise. In fact, Blair Witch is so much better, that finally we should be able to simply pretend that Book of Shadows never existed, unless of course, you already treated it as such.

The problem is that since so much time has passed, the main tenant of the film (Heather's brother searching for her/answers) is almost unbelievable at this point. Sure, I get it. When you lose someone, you will always search for them until you find out their fate for sure, but I would imagine that the intensity would wane over time. At this point, 20 years later, it seems a bit forced to believe that they would set off into the same woods so cavalierly.

That being said, Blair Witch is a wonderful homage to the ground-breaking original film. It features just enough shaky cam footage so as to remind you that you are watching a Blair Witch film, but yet not so much as to leave you reaching for the Dramamine.

The filmmakers also embraced the advance in filming technology over the passing 17 years since the original film and as such, the finished product looks and feels so much better than the original film. Sure, that level of sheen takes away some of the grittiness of the original film, but the tradeoff is one that I'm willing to accept.

In particular, I enjoyed the homage to Kubrick and The Shining during the overhead follow the car shots. Not only is it a fitting homage to another genre-defining horror film, but it really showcases the beauty of the Black Hills, which only adds to the contrast of the horrors within later in the film.

All in all, Blair Witch is a film that will satisfy those fans who enjoyed the first film and sort of wondered how the events of the first film impacted the loved ones of the original three students. It also helps to push the mythology of the Blair Witch ever so slightly. The question is though is it moved enough to justify interest in a third installment?

I guess we will have to wait and see. If you enjoyed The Blair Witch Project, then definitely check out Blair Witch. I promise you won't be left with the same sense of despair that accompanied Book of Shadows.