September 21, 2016
"The Blair Witch Project" (1999) was supposedly the raw film stock shot by students Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard who disappeared while shooting a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch in the wilderness of the Black Hills in Maryland in October of 1994. That indie phenomenon by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez was considered a landmark of sorts in the history of film because it started the "found footage" horror genre.
For me though, watching BWP was one of the worst movie viewing experiences I have ever had. It had such an assaultive level of shakiness in its raw handheld camera work that it was giving me such a bad attack of vertigo right there in the movie house. I could barely look at the screen at all while struggling to keep my stomach contents down. Even then, I still forced myself to stay on to see what happens at the end, only to get that famously unsatisfying abrupt final scene.
In this direct sequel, we meet James Donahue (James Allen McCune), Heather's younger brother, who stumbled upon a YouTube video about the Blair Witch where he imagined he saw an image of his long-lost sister. Hoping she is still alive, James organized a trip to the forest outside Burkittsville, Maryland, along with his close pal Peter Jones (Brandon Scott), Peter's girlfriend Ashley Bennett (Corbin Reid), and film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez) to document their adventure.
James contacted local yokel Lane (Wes Robinson), the guy who uploaded the video online, who decided to tag along on their trip with his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry). From the very first night, their daring mission turned out to be a foolhardy one as they experienced first hand the very horrors those woods were notorious for, as one by one James and his posse fell victims to the deadly Blair Witch curse.
The unknown actors did well portraying these stock characters we can't really care much about (except maybe slightly for James and Lisa). There was some humor to be gleaned in their exaggerated hammy acting as we see them helplessly hurtle to their ghastly fates. Some of the situations they were put into by the director were so crazy they can be entertaining in a macabre way.
This sequel is essentially a reboot of the original BWP. The script by Simon Barrett was basically a reworked story line still very much similar to the first film, but expanded to accommodate more scenes of horror and mayhem. I actually liked the "Bermuda Triangle" effect where all sense of time and place and technology were lost.
As executed by director Adam Wingard, the horror style was also very reminiscent of the first film with its very shaky camera work, crazy closeups and that cacophonous mix of eerie sound effects to create an atmosphere of fear without seeing an actual ghost or monster. Seeing those trademark "wooden stick figures" hanging around the trees was still as creepy as it was back then. The editing work in the abandoned house was harrowing with some nifty work with shadows. Some gross-out scenes were added in the mix this time, as well as some exasperatingly annoying jump scares.
For what it is worth, this film should probably be nominated in the Oscar category of Sound Effects Mixing as they must have used every horror film sound effect from wind howling to rain pouring, to animals screeching, to girls screaming, panting and moaning, to bones crunching to body parts being ripped off. The soundtrack worked chilling wonders for me as I still could not look directly at the screen for the most parts because of the extreme shaky cam. At the risk of sounding shallow or irreverent, I actually liked this one better than the first BWP. 7/10.