“Soft reboot” is a term coined by Red Letter Media in reference to sequels that continue the series while changing it completely. These films fall into a grey area where they are technically remakes, but also sequels. Therefore, I can watch them without breaking my no-remake rule. This month’s soft-reboot is Blair Witch, a follow-up to The Blair Witch Project from 1999. Did it have the same impact as its predecessor or do I regret my decision?
After new footage of his sister Heather in the Black Hills Forest surfaces online, James and a group of his friends decide to find her. In their search they are slowly driven insane by the woods.
Blair Witch lost me five minutes in when the characters were given an earpiece with a camera. There are only two real cameras and a drone and it was the dumbest. This is not found footage; this is a regular-ass movie, shot from multiple perspectives, and with normal editing. Every time there was a cut, I could tell the actors were passing around a real camera, saying their lines, and repeating the process before they had a complete scene. It is similar to how Unfriended was shot, but more blatantly produced.
What makes found footage great (when done right) is the feeling of a natural presentation. You are supposed to imagine what you are watching came from people that decided to film the world. It is an illusion with immersive qualities that put you in the shoes of the cameraman. However, when you have a dozen cameras, attached to more than one person, and very obvious production elements, you see right through the illusion.
Take for example Kenny Vs. Spenny, the best reality TV show ever made. The production used four cameras to film two guys in an apartment and it was more realistic than everything on American television. The small scale emphasized the two’s struggle of competition and the lack of major production elements made it believable. If Blair Witch Project is Kenny Vs. Spenny, then Blair Witch is Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Believe it or not, the abundance of production does not affect the horror because the horror is already stupid. Blair Witch Project is scary because you have no idea what is going on. Maybe the woods were haunted, the characters stupid, a serial killer stalking them, or maybe the witch was real. The unknown is a fear more scary than a tangible threat. You know why you were afraid of the monster under your bed? Because you had no clue what it was. Blair Witch tells you exactly what is going on and I am going to spoil it. If you still want to buy a ticket, I hope you read the next paragraph, and decide otherwise.
The witch is real. She is a grimy Slender Man similar to Ann Coulter, who lures people to the woods to kill them. Her footsteps make loud booming noises and she knocks down trees. She has time/space powers where she makes you think it is a certain time of day and slows down your perception of time. The witch can also make you hallucinate.
The mystery and terror of the threat is utterly gone because you learn everything about it. There is no unknown, no fear of the truth, or of what was really happening in the woods. You know exactly what is going on and it is so blatant, the movie relies on cheap jump scares to compensate.
Look, I understand that contemporary horror is schlock because ordinary people just want to be startled. They do not care about craft, finesse, or the stuff that makes real horror superior. They want something to provide little bursts of excitement in the company of friends and my complaining will not stop them. On those grounds Blair Witch is fine, but for normal people, it is the dumbest. Imagine Big Bang Theory without the laugh track, irredeemably terrible even with the laugh track. Go watch the original Blair Witch Project, It Follows, or Don’t Breathe for real horror instead.