Into the woods.
In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary… A year later their footage was found. That footage became The Blair Witch Project, one of the most successful independent films of all time and the movie that popularised the found-footage format that has haunted the horror genre ever since.
The Blair Witch Project was the first film to use a viral marketing campaign back when the internet was still in its infancy, and while Adam Wingard’s follow-up doesn’t employ the same tactics, it does have the element of surprise. Trailered and promoted as The Woods, it was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con in July that this was actually a Blair Witch sequel.
Ignoring the dire 2000 sequel Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, this return to Black Hills forest outside of Burkittsville features a new group of documentarians, led by the brother of the still missing Heather, who mounted the first attempt to uncover the local legend. But it’s not just the original trio that have vanished, so has the house that featured in their footage.
Having stumbled across a YouTube video that suggests his sister might still be alive, he convinces five companions to accompany him into the cursed forest on a search and possible rescue mission. Armed with GPS, a drone, and ear-mounted DV cameras, there’s little chance of becoming lost and disoriented. But hi-tech won’t help when an ancient evil is out to get you, and before long the signature sticks and stones begin appearing around their campsite.
Wingard has a good handle on horror, having helmed the quality thrillers You’re Next and The Guest, and he understands and respects what made the original film work and elects to add his own sinister touches to the Blair Witch mythology, rather than simply rehash what has gone before.
The tricks and techniques of found-footage have evolved since The Blair Witch Project first assaulted viewers with shaky-cam scares but Wingard stays true to the source, recreating the discombobulating cinematography and adding a truly unnerving sound mix to crank up the fright factor. But when he does borrow, he borrows from the best, with a creepy climax that’s heavily indebted to Spanish shocker REC.
If you regard the 1999 original as a terrifying classic, you’ll view this sequel as a more polished but ultimately superfluous exercise. If you’re still wondering what all the fuss was about, this is the Blair Witch film you’ve always wanted to see.
In cinemas: September 15, 2016
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid
Directed by: Adam Wingard