Film review: Blair Witch

blair-witch-2016-trailer-posterFrom the opening frames to its horrifying ending, Adam Wingard’s sequel to the original found footage phenomenon is a worthy successor and one of the first truly terrifying films to release this year. Taking the formula and feeling from the prequel, building on it in nearly every way. Technologically and story-wise, this sequel makes up for its early reliance on jump scares to build to an unnerving ending.

Taking place 15 years after the disappearance of Heather Donahue and two other filmmakers as they tried to uncover the truth behind the legend of the Blair Witch of the woods near Burketsville, Maryland, we join her EMT brother James on his journey to find the trio. James is joined by his friends, their camera equipment, and two strangers who claim to know more about his sister and the woods.

The set up is clear and concise, wasting almost no time before the young group sets off into the woods. Those familiar with the original film will note similarities between the two films as some beats are retread, often calling back to the original’s haunting atmosphere and locations.

None of the new characters presented are particularly compelling on their own despite their strong performances. Instead, the pleasures of the movie are purely adrenaline driven, each new sequence providing another notch in which the filmmakers up the ante and thrills. By the end of the film, I firmly believe more than one person in each theatre will be successfully shaking in their seat.

Wingard has proven his merit in the horror genre with previous projects You’re Next and The Guest, each of those twisting the genre in an equally surprising fashion. With Blair Witch, he takes a decidedly more generic turn with the material instead, focusing on building a tense atmosphere for the film until assaulting the audience in the final minutes of the film with an unrelenting barrage of non-stop frights.

The serenely distorted background music composed by Wingard adds in the constant building of tension, backed by the surprisingly clear “handycam” style that the original refined. Shot in the Woods of an undisclosed location in B.C. (one fact you may not have wanted to know) the setting acts as the greatest character presented in the film, a dark, brooding and impenetrable blanket of spiny trees that cut off any sense of hope allowed for the poor men and women stranded in the woods.

Continuing this year’s strong string of horror hits, Blair Witch is an unnerving and deeply satisfactory horror film that plays just long enough for 89 minutes to crawl underneath your skin and pop in the original to see where it all began.