Saturday, September 17, 2016

BLAIR WITCH

To this day, 17 years later THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is my favorite marketing of a movie. This film had horror fans going nuts! Was the footage real or was it fiction? Yeah of course it was fake, but back in 1999 the debate raged on even after leaving the theater.

For me the hype/curiosity all started while hanging out with my best friend(also a fellow movie buff). We were at his house one day and he asked me if I had heard of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? No, I said. What's the Blair Witch? Almost immediately we went to his computer and checked out the website. My friend read me the legend and showed me the video clips. And went on and on how the kids filming a documentary went missing. I found the whole thing creepy and convinced it was real.

Then a few weeks later a special aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and their was something about it that made the whole THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT found film seem very fake. But I still wanted to believe. Then days leading up to the theatrical release MTV News broke the story that the film was indeed fake. My friend and I were crushed. But deep down we knew all along the film wasn't real.

When THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT came out it was an instant blockbuster smash hit! It became (and still is I think) the most successful independent film of all time. All because of a clever marketing campaign. Was it fake or real? That was the conversations happening in theater lobbies across the nation. Very quickly however, came the backlash.

Some theater goers hated the found-footage style of the film, and could not see beyond a 87 minute movie of people lost and screaming in the woods.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was definitely not a movie for everybody. In my opinion for the film to work, the viewer really has to be in the mind set that the woods are haunted and cursed. This suspension of disbelief is key, without it you're likely to find the movie boring and stupid.

After the success of the movie, Hollywood rushed a sequel into production. It bombed. I haven't seen BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, but after hearing some people talk about it I may check it out. There were talks of a third Blair Witch movie but after the poor box office of the sequel, those plans were quickly scraped.

So the Blair Witch “franchise” died off, but the found-footage horror sub-genre lived on. I don't know how long Lionsgate has been wanting to relaunch the Blair Witch films? But I'm going to take an educated guess and say they wanted to bring the franchise back to life after the success of PARAMORMAL ACTIVITY.

It took 17 years for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to get the sequel fans deserve. And what better team to bring it than director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett. I have been a fan of these filmmakers since their contribution to V/H/S. And after seeing their film YOU'RE NEXT I became a fan for life.

Adam and Simon's new film was going to be a horror film called THE WOODS. Cool, of course I'll see it. I couldn't wait!

They showed THE WOODS at this years San Diego Comic Con. But what the audience saw that day was BLAIR WITCH, a true blue direct sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The geek community went nuts. And of course I was excited but also a tad discouraged my two new favorite filmmakers were not making something original.

BLAIR WITCH takes place 17 years after the events depicted in the original film. After discovering some video footage of what appears to be his sisters experiences in the haunted woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling.

My first impressions of BLAIR WITCH were not that great. I left the theater thinking it was just okay. Don't get me wrong, I thought the film was very effective and scary. The sour taste in my mouth was that the movie had too many similar moments from the original. Which automatically makes it one of those remake/sequel things. And they added jump scares this time, which the original had none.

But after mulling it over in my head for about 48 hours, I love the film the more I think about it. Because just like with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT you have to be in the mind set that getting lost in a haunted forest is some scary shit! And BLAIR WITCH builds on this mythology perfectly!

The main thing I kept thinking about was how much I loved the haunted forest. The filmmakers still follow the less-is-more aspect of the original, but also add a little to the legend. In THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT it's implied that the three teens get lost because the witch is messing with them. In the new film they add the aspect that if you stay in the woods overnight, that's when the Blair Witch curses you.

I love stuff like that! Adding to the mythology of the story without heavy handedness.

And lastly, the film was just down right scary! There is a thunderstorm at the end of the film and the lightning shining through the boarded up windows of the decrepit old house was absolutely terrifying. And yes, we are shown the Blair Witch this time. It seems like something unnecessary, but it's appearance is brief if not subliminal and maybe out of this world. And I found that very cool.

If I had to pick somethings that I didn't like about the movie I'd say that the jump scares could have been left out of the movie. Probably a studio mandated thing? And the film has a antagonist that I found really pointless. I don't know if the point of that character was to make you think the curse and Blair Witch doesn't exist and that crazy townsfolk cultists are behind it all?

My final thoughts are that I highly recommend BLAIR WITCH. It is a good worthy sequel done with love and respect for the original film.

3 comments:

Aaron Atkinson said...

The Blair Witch Project is a completely unique animal. I think it was probably the first time we were really subjected to viral marketing in that way, and if not the first, certainly the first time it was so effective. Even if you didn't believe for a second that your local cineplex was going to show you a snuff film, the film makers made it so easy to suspend your disbelief and buy into the reality of the movie.

Of course, the marketing went a long way to help with that. Yes, that documentary aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, which should have been a big clue to everybody at the time (this was before they aired terrible ghost hunting shows pretending to be reality every night), but that, along with the website which had fake news broadcasts, fake interviews with family members of the missing documentarians, photos of the search...it all made it feel authentic.

And the movie itself held that authenticity. The interviews with the townspeople at the beginning of the movie all feel real. The legend of the Blair Witch perfectly captures the feeling of the story local children would sit around a campfire and tell, because their dads' had scared them with the story of the witch in the woods. It feels like a real local legend, and the movie never betrays that reality. Maybe it was because of budget constraints, and maybe it was because the filmmakers were smart, but they never show you any crazy supernatural happenings. That would break the reality of the movie.

Our heroes stumble upon creepy dolls made with sticks hanging from trees and wake up to find piles of rocks the appeared outside their tents overnight. They're woken up by noises in the middle of the night (and as a point of contrast to the new movie, I have to point out that these noises are real...the filmmakers are out in the woods making real noises, and those noises are picked up by the real recording equipment that the actors are really using). If we had seen a witch hanging the figures from a tree or making piles of rocks, even if the witch looked amazing, the reality of the movie would have fallen apart. We could no longer buy into the idea that we're watching real footage shot by real people...it would then be just another horror movie.

The supernatural elements of The Blair Witch Project are a whisper...a suggestion. They're a question. Is someone just messing with them? Are they just dumb kids who got lost? Some creepy things happen, and we're definitely on edge, especially as the stress of the situation starts to realistically tear apart our group. But the closest we ever get to proof that something supernatural is happening is someone standing in the corner of a creepy house in the middle of the night in the middle of the woods and the camera falling to the ground while Heather screams.

People didn't know what to make of the movie. People weren't savvy to viral marketing, and the movie never dropped the illusion that it was all real. "Did that really happen?" "I heard it's just a movie. My buddy told me that the girl was on David Letterman."

Almost 20 years later and we all know. This movie didn't have a chance to fool anybody. I can't blame it for that. The original sequel, Book Of Shadows, was painfully aware of that fact. So they didn't try to imitate the original. While that movie is garbage, you have to give them credit for coming up with an idea. They wanted to do something new.

Aaron Atkinson said...

When it was revealed that Adam Wingard's found footage camping movie The Woods was actually Blair Witch, it was clear that someone who's proven himself as one of the freshest up-and-coming voices in horror was going to attempt to make his sequel in the same style as the original. The original gets a lot of hate now for being "boring". I've always been a defender for all of the reasons I've already talked about, and I've been a huge fan of Adam Wingard ever since I saw You're Next. As I said, he wasn't going to fool anybody into thinking that it's real, but I thought he was going to perfectly capture the authenticity of the original. To make it feel real, and put us all back in those woods, not sure if we'd ever make it back out.

Boy did he drop the fucking ball. In the original, actors were not given dialogue. They were given notes during each day of filming, telling them the basic ways the story was to play out, and they were improvising all the way. In the new movie, we don't have people in situations...we have characters who are given dialogue. Bad dialogue. On-the-nose dialogue. It doesn't feel authentic, it feels written.

On top of that, we're going to throw in every element you remember from the original and make it more extreme. Creepy noises? We've got those. And they're way louder, and way creepier. And the way they fill the Dolby surround system in the theater, it sounds like it was very obviously added in post production. Not Authentic.

In the Paranormal Activity movies, you always know when something scary is going to happen. The first few nights, we just get plain ol' nighttime footage. But every time something's about to happen, there's a noise, almost like a soft hum, that I don't think you're even supposed to notice. It's just supposed to make you tense up. Blair Witch has a ton of that. Not authentic.

Remember the creepy stick figures? Dude, there are so many more stick figures in the new one. And bigger ones. It's so much scarier. And also, not authentic.

Remember the guy standing in the corner in the basement, which was a really subtle and creepy callback to the story the local tells at the beginning about the kids who are made to stand in the corner before being killed? SO MANY PEOPLE STANDING IN CORNERS NOW! If we make every person in the movie stand in a corner, it will be 10 times as scary! Also, let's add to the mythology of corner-standing, and make that the way to survive the witch! If you stand in the corner and don't look, she can't hurt you! Retarded. And more importantly, not authentic.

Oh, but Adam Wingard isn't just out to ramp up all the same old shit from the original. Oh no, he's got his own ideas as well. Like tents that shoot into the sky like rockets! How's that for scary? I mean fuck it, the authenticity flew out the window a long time ago, right?

You know that horror movie cliche where someone turns around very quickly and there's a really loud noise and OH SHIT...nevermind, it's just the guy who's showing us around the woods...Well, get ready to see that at least 5 times!

How about people traveling through time and a night that never ends? We've crossed into fucking full on fairy tale at this point folks.



If this movie were released in 1999 with all of the incredible marketing that the original had, you would not have people debating whether or not it was real in the lobby. Is the movie effective at times? Sure. Does the witch look pretty cool? I mean...maybe...I guess? But it betrays everything that made the original what it was. So did Blair Witch 2, but at least it had an original idea...something to say. This has no point. Just like the alien bug thing that I'm pretty sure the Blair Witch puts inside someone's foot when they cut it on a rock while crossing a creek? Pointless. It went nowhere and didn't need to be there.

Aaron Atkinson said...

But of course it had to turn out this way. The real curse isn't the curse of the Blair Witch, it's the curse of franchise movies in 2016. At the end of the day, this is just another turd on top of a pile of shit.