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Having handily picked up the Venice Days Award at this year's Venice Film Festival, Early Winter, by Australian expat director, Michael Rowe, will now get a nationwide theatrical release.
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REVIEW: Blair Witch

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

1999 was the year of The Blair Witch Project. The scrappy, micro-budgeted indie flick from directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, benefited from a clever online marketing campaign and a sense of originality in its delivery method. The “found footage” conceit seemed fresh and new (particularly to people who’d never heard of Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 found footage nasty, Cannibal Holocaust), and audiences flocked to the movie in droves. The Blair Witch Project was huge, and it ended up being one of the most successful independent films of all time. For a movie that features a bunch of directionally-challenged Americans swearing at one another and freaking out over piles of sticks and rocks in the woods, that was impressive and unexpected.

Naturally, a sequel was made the following year, but Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 suffered from (a) audience fatigue, and (b) being a bit shit. The Blair Witch juggernaut was over before it really got a chance to begin, and the found footage conceit languished until around 2007 when Paranormal Activity and REC proved that there was life left in the sub-genre yet.

Jump cut to 2016 and now we have the release of Blair Witch, the third film in the franchise. It’s telling that the movie isn’t called “Blair Witch 3”, because the clear intention of this film is a soft reboot for the franchise. Directed by talented, genre-savvy Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest), Blair Witch tells the familiar tale of a group of college students going into the Black Hills of Maryland to solve a mystery. Said mystery is the location of Heather, the protagonist of the original Blair Witch Project and older sister of James Donahue (James Allen McCune), our rather dull leading man.

Blair Witch subscribes to the horror sequel philosophy of “more is better.” We have a larger cast, this time six instead of three, better technology (everyone gets a portable camera and there’s even a drone), plus the horror – when it arrives – is louder and less subtle than anything in the original. Thought the strange noises in the night were scary? Well, now they’re booming out of the speakers! Did you get creeped out by the mysterious stickmen? Well, now there are dozens of the bloody things, in multiple sizes including XXXL!

That’s not to say that Blair Witch is without creepy moments. There’s a genuine sense of unease in quite a few scenes and Wingard, who recently did a terrific job directing the pilot of the TV series, Outcast, knows how to bring the tension. It’s more that no matter what happens to our rather forgettable young leads, we’re always aware that it will in some way relate to the Blair Witch mythos, making the story less about fear of the unknown and more about waiting to see callbacks to the original.

That said, there are three or four really tense moments in Blair Witch. One sequence in a cramped tunnel is likely to genuinely freak out any claustrophobics in the audience, and the story moves along at a brisk clip. For ardent fans of the original or, conversely, folks who are too young to remember it, Blair Witch will offer a fairly scary good time. For the rest of us, however, it’s yet another technically competent, above average but oddly unambitious rehash of a story we’ve seen many times before.

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