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After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James (James Allen McCune) and a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch.

Review by Tommy Draper

If you go down to the woods today. Burkittsville welcomes new visitors
If you go down to the woods today. Burkittsville welcomes new visitors

The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a revered horror movie for many a horror aficionado and pretty much started the whole ‘found footage’ style of film, which we’re still seeing today. When it’s done well, it can add a great deal and better utilise a small budget (see 2012’s Chronicle for one the of the best examples). A quick and frankly awful meta sequel (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) attempted to cash-in on the hype in 2000 and since that, the Blair Witch has pretty much faded into folklore as the little film that could. Now we’re heading back into the woods of Burkittsville.

We first join James (McCune), brother of Heather, the girl who went missing in the original movie. He has discovered more found footage online, together with an image of a girl who he thinks is his sister, which spurs him to go into the Burkittsvillee woods in search of answers. Along for the ride is childhood friend Peter (Brandon Scott), Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Lisa, who is making a film about Peter for her documentary film class. Which is lucky, as it means we can have a movie with a similar visual style to the original ‘Project.

Talia (Valorie Curry) really wish she'd done the outward bound courses at school
Talia (Valorie Curry) really wish she’d done the outward bound courses at school

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barett are the team behind the excellent You’re Next (2011), which gave hope that they would do something special with this direct sequel (we’re ignoring Book of Shadows, as should you). But instead, they fall at the first booby trap. We need characters who should have been more aware of what they were walking into, since two of them grew up in the shadow of Heather’s disappearance; instead they first get blind drunk (after firing up the camera first of course) and thus head off to camp in the deep, dark woods with hangovers, pretty much like the crew did in the first movie.

On the way there they pick up Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry from the excellent tv series The Following), a couple who go into these woods regularly. Indeed, they hunt for the famed Blair Witch on a regular basis and are the people who found and posted the footage that first aroused James’ interest.

It's not like they weren't warned
It’s not like they weren’t warned

From here on in, we have some explanation and theories about who or what the Blair Witch is, basically amounting to a rehash of information from the original film. And that’s not all that’s familiar; there are strange noises at night, stick figures in the trees and stones placed on the ground. If you’ve seen the original, you know the score. And this is where the problem lies. None of these ‘scary’ moments actually gets the blood pumping, instead reeking of ‘seen it all before’ moments, just with added chaos and over-the-top screaming. It’s enough to give you a headache.

And then, against all expectation it begins to pick up. The original film ended up in a strange house and here we are, back again, except this time around we get to spend a lot more time in this creepy set. There are some great moments and the tension and terror feels much more real. The scenes in the water-logged tunnels in which Lisa gets stuck (still managing to film everything of course) are well done and thoroughly claustrophobic. Flogging the proverbial dead horse and copying the original films most memorial scene we also have more ‘stand in the corner moments’, only this time, we actually get to see what is behind the characters. Not to give anything away, but this stuff is genuinely creepy.

Lights! Camera! Jump Scares! Well, 2 out of 3 'aint bad
Lights! Camera! Jump Scares! Well, 2 out of 3 ‘aint bad

But a good ending can’t make up for the pretty poor stuff that’s come before. The Blair Witch Project was a watershed moment for horror cinema that launched a plethora of imitators and a style of filmmaking all it’s own. Blair Witch could have ploughed its own path, but instead, hangs on to those coattails for all it’s worth.