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Scary Movie Club: Blair Witch


 Spoilers ahead!

In this newest installment of the Advocate’s Scary Movie Club, two staffers — horror movie buff Jennifer Levesque and total wimp Hunter Styles — made the trek back into the proverbial woods for Blair Witch, the new sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.

Shot on a shoestring budget of $60,000, the original Blair Witch movie — about a trio of young historians hefting Camcorders who disappear in the Maryland woods in search of an evil spirit — made $250 million at the box office. Combining a “found footage” conceit with an early-internet viral marketing campaign, the original Blair Witch reinvented American horror.

Many films over the next 17 years, from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S to Cloverfield, asked us to rely on the unreliable — splintered story lines, jittery camera work, and the briefest glimpses of evil — to draw our own conclusions about what’s lurking out there. At best, this filmmaking style ignites imaginations. At worst, it comes off as a confusing hack job, swapping scares for shaky cam shenanigans.

The new Blair Witch employs the same found-footage tricks, but on a budget of $5 million. On the night we went to see it, the aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes had the new Blair Witch at an unimpressive 36% approval rating. Our expectations were rather low — which turned out to be a good thing.

Hunter Styles: First off, what was that centipede thing?

Jennifer Levesque: Oh, in the foot?

Hunter: Yeah. I was covering my eyes a few times — actually, a lot. What happened?

Jen: Well, it was heavily infected, and then there’s a movement, like there’s something inside of her foot. Then later, remember when she sits down on the tree stump and opened up her pant leg?

Hunter: That part, unfortunately, I did see.

Jen: Whatever she found, it came up through her leg, I guess?

Hunter: Let’s back up. It took me until embarrassingly recently to see the original Blair Witch Project. You, on the other hand, love horror movies. Did you see the original right when it came out?

Jen: Yeah, my mom took me to see it when I was in middle school. I remember sitting next to her in the theater, and she was freaking out. I just thought: this is really cool. It had a creepy, realistic vibe that I hadn’t seen before.

Hunter: Was that early on in your horror movie fandom?

Jen: I had already gotten into the stuff my dad watched, like Poltergeist and Children of the Corn. But Blair Witch I got into on my own.

Hunter: The original is fun to analyze, but I’m not sure I’d ever watch it more than once. I do like that the filmmakers put obstacles and challenges in place for themselves, then figured out how to scare people without special effects. This new one, by contrast, did have a budget, and there are definitely more digital effects. Did you find this new one scary? I certainly did.

Jen: It’s definitely scarier than the first one. And it got especially scary toward the end.

Hunter: When they arrive at the mysterious house from the first film.

Jen: I liked that repetition. They’re in search of the sister who went missing in the original, so it makes perfect sense that they’d walk the same track.

Hunter: Some reviewers really didn’t care about the characters. But compared to the characters in the first movie — who are so annoying they’re almost unwatchable — I thought this movie left much more room for actual acting, not just shouting. Some are thinly drawn, but I think they’re pretty relatable. Especially thinking back to our review of The Green Inferno, and how terrible the acting was.

Jen: Bad acting fits some types of horror movies better than others.

Hunter: What parts of the movie did you like best?

Jen: Any scene where they’re running in the rain, in the dark, trying to find everybody. The flashlight bulbs are flickering on and off, because the batteries are shorting out. You can hear the trees cracking all around them. By the time they got into that house, I was huddled in my seat.

Hunter: I loved the parts that felt more like The Twilight Zone. Time starts to warp, and the sun stops coming up. That really expanded the nightmare without adding a bunch of special effects.

Jen: It felt like they were stuck in purgatory.

Hunter: Especially in the final scene, which feels like the ending of a Greek myth. They see a way out, they understand the challenge, but the monster is overpowering, because it’s more clever than they are.

Jen: That’s a classic element of witch movies — mind control.

Hunter: This came up when we talked about The Witch earlier this year. Witch movies aren’t usually gory or violent, but they’re full of dread and seduction.

Jen: And the unseen.

Hunter: People are undone through emotional violence, not physical violence. They’re tricked into a place they can’t escape, like Hansel and Gretel. This one also reminded me of Evil Dead.

Jen: Also this movie called Black Forest — check that out too.

Hunter: The director of Blair Witch, Adam Wingard, also made You’re Next.

Jen: Yeah, that was great! It’s more of a hostage movie. Gruesome.

Hunter: Also check out his other movie, The Guest. It’s not really a horror movie — more of a Western crime thriller. Oh, and also — we forgot to talk about Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, from 2000!

Jen: Ugh. That one does not need to be discussed.