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Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Blair Witch is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Blair Witch (2016) movie poster Blair Witch

Theatrical Release: September 16, 2016 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Adam Wingard / Writer: Simon Barrett

Cast: James Allen McCune (James Donahue), Callie Hernandez (Lisa Arlington), Brandon Scott (Peter Jones), Valorie Curry (Talia), Corbin Reid (Ashley Bennett), Wes Robinson (Lane)

Buy Blair Witch from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

There are few landmarks in horror film as significant as The Blair Witch Project. Produced for the meager sum of $60,000, the 1999 movie strategically billed itself as genuine found footage of aspiring documentarians who disappeared in the woods five years earlier.
Disarming audiences, including a number who weren't sure if the hook was genuine or conceit, the film grossed $140 million domestic and $250 million worldwide, setting an industry record for return on investment that is virtually untouchable. The closest anyone has come to duplicating its success was in 2009's similarly imaginative and super low budget next-generation found footage thriller Paranormal Activity.

Blair Witch's commercial success and wide-reaching impact seemed difficult to reproduce, but too potentially lucrative not to try. Artisan wasted little time (a scant 15 months since the original opened) before releasing Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, whose more ordinary $15 million budget was narrowly recouped at best with front-loaded takes of $26.4 M domestic and $47.8 worldwide. That sequel seems to have instantly been forgotten and the franchise shelved while the original film's reputation evolved from fool-making hoax to uncommonly inventive homegrown horror.

Ashley (Corbin Reid) gets help crossing a steam from Peter (Brandon Scott) and James (James Allen McCune) in 2016's "Blair Witch."

Having seen how well nostalgia has worked for movies like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Artisan acquirer Lionsgate tries to tap into that market with Blair Witch, an untimely sequel whose production was shrouded in secrecy under the working title The Woods to reduce kneejerk Internet negativity. This new generation's Blair Witch unsurprisingly ignores Book of Shadows and serves as more or less a direct follow-up to the original hit. That one tagged along with three film students into the fabled forests of Burkittsville, Maryland in the fall of 1994. Set twenty years later, this one follows a group of six young people into the same Black Hills area and was pieced together from recovered SD cards and such.

Among the explorers is James Donahue (James Allen McCune), the improbably younger brother of the original trio's principal and lone female face Heather Donahue. He hopes to somehow find Heather alive in the woods and he's got friends with cameras prepared to document it all. A couple of fringe group members, Maryland locals, are devout believers in the Witch's legends. They soon ostracize themselves from the others with behavior intended to make believers out of all.

Genuine or not, some of the original film's hallmarks -- the stacks of stones, the stick figures in the trees -- resurface here. And so do the tensions and fears that cripple these young documentarians. Some lose their minds, convinced that days are passing without the sun rising. Others injure themselves, like the girl whose foot wound develops into an infected leg of the wince-inducing variety.

Burkittsville, Maryland natives Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) buy into the Blair Witch narratives more so than their company.

When you think about it, Blair Witch has more or less an impossible task to pull off: to pay homage to a well-known 17-year-old movie without simply remaking it. Working against it is the fact that the Paranormal Activity franchise sparked an entire subgenre of horror that saw any allure to the found footage format evaporate.
There's an improbable number of cameras running at unlikely times here, but of course no one is expecting anyone to mistake Blair Witch for genuine found footage, the way that the original film was. Even in just seventeen years, moviegoers have grown more cynical, quick to resist or find holes in anything that is popular enough to be noticed.

The creative duo of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (You're Next, The Guest and select segments of the V/H/S movies) do what they can to be true to the original while also keeping today's horror fans interested and on the edge of their seats. They have modest success without harnessing the powers of imagination and the unseen anywhere to the extent that made the original film so uniquely frightening. Blair Witch isn't a respected enough franchise for there to be any risk of sullying a sacred brand, but it remains to be seen what kind of drawing power the title will have. Better than the generic sounding The Woods almost certainly, but enough to revive this as an active horror franchise? We will soon see.

Buy Blair Witch from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 16, 2016.



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