TIFF 2016: Blair Witch
When Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett announced they were working on a new project many, including yours truly, were giddy with excitement. After all these are the director and writer of You’re Next and The Guest respectively, two of the better genre films to be released in recent years. What no one saw coming though was that their latest feature, originally titled The Woods, was in fact a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Considering how well they were able to keep the project secret, and the bait-and-switch title change to Blair Witch, they clearly had channeled the original’s covert marketing, which was as crucial to that film as the content itself.
Creating a sequel that no one asked for or wanted, the fact that the Blair Witch is such a fun romp is a testament to Wingard’s craftsmanship. Wingard does not try to reinvent the wheel like its predecessor, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, but rather takes the franchise back to its roots. The plot involves James (James Allen McCune), a paramedic and the brother of the original’s film Heather, coming across a tape that hints that his missing sister may still be alive. Convincing his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott) to go on a road trip to question the couple (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who found the tape, James finds his plans altered when the couple request to join the group on their camping trip into the same woods where his sister was taken.
It does not take long for things to go bump in the night as the mysterious woods takes on a life of its own. Updating the found footage genre to incorporate new technology, such as drones and GPS trackers, Wingard ensures that the film never veers too far from the elements that made the original a horror classic. While there are plenty of nods to the original, Blair Witch feels like its own entertaining beast. The cast, who have the unfortunate pleasure of being terrorized by the angry witch, are all solid and often react the way you would expect them to in their situation. It also helps that Barrett’s script is filled with plenty of sly banter that makes the bonds of friendships feel authentic.
Although Wingard provides his own stamp, expanding on the existing lore and taking it in new directions, the film is still a part of an existing franchise. As a result, those familiar with the original may not be as easily spooked this time around. Regardless, Wingard effectively introduces the series to a whole new generation of fans. Blair Witch may not surpass the heights set by The Blair Witch Project, but it is still a worthy and fun addition to the franchise.
Thursday, September 15, 4:45 PM, Scotiabank
Tickets can be purchased at tiff.net