The Blair Witch Project Retrospective: Blair Witch (2016)

I don’t like it. Can I go now?

Of all the Blair Witch media I’ve been shoving down my proverbial media-gullet in the last few weeks, Adam Wingard’s 2016 Blair Witch is the one I’ve been looking forward to the least.

When I first heard Adam Wingard was helming a new Blair Witch sequel, I was actually somewhat excited about it: his godawful Death Note adaptation hadn’t come out yet, but his excellent slasher You’re Next had, as well as his standout segment in the first ABCs of Death movie. I was still firmly of the belief that there didn’t need to be another Blair Witch movie, but hey, Adam Wingard clearly had a lot of love for the genre, and maybe there’d be something to it, right?

There isn’t. Well, to me, anyway. Blair Witch is probably my least favourite version of this story – I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as Book of Shadows, but at least Joe Berlinger’s attempt had some sense of trying to come into its own. Blair Witch, though, feels like a knock-off in all the worst ways possible.

But, to be entirely fair to it, let’s look at this movie through the lens of the aspects I’ve been using to judge the rest of this franchise. I think the biggest issue I can identify with Blair Witch – something that is sort of inevitable for any modern filmmaker having a crack at this story – is the way modern technology changes the trajectory of this story. The Blair Witch Project, for me, works so beautifully because of what we can’t see, what we don’t know, the snatches of sound in the dark caught on the microphone of a slightly-shitty camera. Blair Witch doesn’t – couldn’t – rely on the same lack to build atmosphere. Right from the start, we have characters with cameras, drones, microphones, portable face-cams; in theory, it’s exciting, a chance for us to see more of this world, but in practice, all it does it leave far less to the imagination, and (for me) strip away a lot of the possibility of the original movie. Additionally, the cast is quite literally twice the size of the first movie, and the multiple cameras and multiple characters create a confusion and clutteredness in the plot that doesn’t serve to add anything.

When we can jump from camera to camera to capture both sides of a single conversation, we might as well just be watching a non-found-footage movie, and it lacks the meta-storytelling inherent to the genre – the best Blair Witch gets, for my money, is the final act, with the limited point-of-views and at most two camera perspective. There’s just too much going on a lot of the time, too many characters overlapping with each other and not enough chance to really get into any of them (though, I would like to give a shout out to Brandon Scott, one of the leads in Blair Witch, who is also the star of my favourite season of the amazing horror anthology Channel Zero).

So, on the meta front, it fails, by virtue of being made in 2016 and having to make use of the technology available at that time. But what about the folklore? Honestly, I think this is an aspect that could have been done a lot better – a couple of the characters are enthusiasts of the Blair Witch myth, but they end up more as antagonists to the rest of the cast than serving any real purpose to explore it deeper. One of them ends up as a sort of conduit for the dark powers in the woods, but it’s not very well explained (much better delved into in the following 2018 game, which I’ll be getting into soon), and I wish Blair Witch had really pushed this element more; with internet communities springing up around folklore and mysticism, it would have been really cool to see the writers build on the original internet innovation of the series and really draw this out as a focal point.

The main driving point behind the movie is Heather, the filmmaker from the first movie, and her little brother, who goes into the woods in the hopes of finding her. I’m not averse to this as a premise, but I felt like the concept could have been better explored – how did Heather’s vanishing affect him and the rest of the family? Have they been harassed by people obsessed with the case? Does the film exist in this universe? It’s a decent starting point that never really goes beyond that, which is a real shame, given what a great character Heather is and how much more we could have learned about her and her impact.

But what about the woods? I think, much the same as Book of Shadows, Blair Witch has the issue of never making the woods feel as deep, dense, and constricting as they should – but I have to give it credit in the way it deals with the house that appears at the end of the first movie. The third act of Blair Witch – while I don’t particularly agree with the choice to show any monsters, even briefly – is without a doubt the most effective part of it. As I mentioned above, the limited point-of-view cameras really work well here, and the house really does have a great sense of trapping the characters in a hopeless, endless rotation of horror. It’s one of the only parts of the movie I feel really builds on what the original laid out, instead of just sort of hand-waving in its general direction and then throwing in a gross jump-scare.

But, as a whole, I still really, really dislike Blair Witch. It’s lazy, it’s boring, it doesn’t have a sniff of the atmosphere or tone or focus of the original. The modernization of the series doesn’t have to mean the death of it, but Blair Witch fails to integrate the crucial aspects of these stories into a more modern setting – and it’s a dismal failure as a result.

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By Lou MacGregor

(header image via Variety)


  1. Jason

    I remember not minding BW at the time, though I might have just been excited for anything new to do with BWP. I do remember hating how much was shown vs. leaving it to the imagination in the original.

    I’d say I should give it a rewatch, but after reading your write-up, I think I’ll let it sit for a few more years.


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