The Blair Witch Project Retrospective: Blair Witch (2019)

Okay, I’ve decided to end out this series on probably the most unpopular opinion I have about any single piece of Blair Witch media.

And it’s this: I really like the 2019 Blair Witch game.

Developed by the Bloober Team (who were, coincidentally, announced as the team behind some of the new Silent Hill stuff coming out soon, upon which I have some Very Mixed Feelings), released in 2019 and set in 1996, the psychological horror/The Blair Witch Project sequel is one of my favourite parts of the Blair Witch franchise. While it has it’s flaws – not least the infuriatingly glitchy software that had me abandoning it on my first playthrough because I simply could not get past a certain segment due to the game being genuinely broken – it’s genuinely scary, with a really interesting leading character, a cute dog who I love with every single bit of my heart, and a pretty engaging re-interpretation of the Blair Witch lore to work in game form. It does show more than the original movie, giving us a few monsters and other threats to navigate, but it does lean in to the sense of being helplessly alone in a dense forest with no idea what’s after you, which really captures the heart of the original, at least for me.

But what of the Three Essential Blair Witch Factors that I’ve been banging my drum about for the last five weeks or so? Well, I think the one Blair Witch pulls off with the most gusto – maybe even better than any other part of the series – is Burkittsville Woods. The potential of the original Blair Witch game, Rustin Parr, is finally actually realized in this one, a perfect balance of that hopeless, helpless wandering in these endless woods and actual action to keep things interesting. There are a handful of locations for you to investigate, but none of them break the immersion of the Woods themselves – an abandoned railway, sheds half-fallen apart, strange ritual sites amongst the trees. The sheer amount of time you spend in those Woods trying to get to the bottom of the mystery that drew you there gives you that feeling of endless wandering, but, with a solid plot that’s consistently moving forward and adding layer upon layer to the dread, it doesn’t get staid in the way it could. Sometimes, the gameplay can get a little repetitive and frustrating, but it’s just about possible to excuse that as a part of the effect of the woods, both of the character and on the player.

In fact, it’s this storytelling choice that really allows Blair Witch to go to some very interesting meta-textual places. The subjectivity of the POV character, as inhabited and controlled by the player, is a complete shift from the objectivity offered by the found footage framing of the movies. Putting us in the POV of a character who’s struggling with their mental health gives the game room to play with supernatural elements and imagery without necessarily confirming them one way or another, and it’s a really smart storytelling choice that gives the developers room to explore a little more esoterica without breaking the rules of the Blair Witch universe. The influences the player’s choices have over the eventual outcome of the game – which I won’t spoil here, as I think it’s really checking out if you’re a fan of the Blair Witch franchise – offer a baseline meta-textuality that stands in for the intimacy of the found footage basis of the films. It’s also a quick and effective way of getting us right into the character’s head, which is vital for something basically solely focused on a single lead, and makes Ellis arguably the most in-depth and well-realised lead of the whole franchise.

When it comes to technology, I’m really glad the game is set in the 90s, because it sidesteps the over-saturation issues of the 2016 film. Ellis’ brick of a mobile phone appeals to me as someone who came of age in that era (and who owned a mobile that would certainly be able to push a broken-down car several miles in a pinch), but also because it gives us that small connection to the outside world, a line of light through the hopelessness of the woods and his situation. The use of video cameras similair to those of the original movie gives it a graininess and reminiscence to that film, and the inherent loneliness of pre-social media and perma-WiFi connection helps build the sense of distance from the rest of the world this character has, both spiritually and very literally.

Blair Witch (2019) is a game I really have a whole lot of affection for (apart from that one jumpscare that nearly made me lose my lunch backwards), and one that really captures the ethos of the Blair Witch franchise and story for me. It might have taken nearly twenty years after the original to get it this right, but I’m glad someone finally did.

That’s the end of my Blair Witch series for now – I am still on the hunt for the 2000s Blair Witch book series, so if anyone has any idea where I can find them or feels generous enough to send me their copies, I may well add another entry to these articles. I’ve honestly loved the chance to share my passion for this series and these stories with you, so thank you to everyone who read, commented, debated, and argued with me about their Blair Witch opinions, too. If you enjoyed this series, consider checking out the horror section of No But Listen, and I hope you’ll stick around for more spooky season silliness soon!

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By Lou MacGregor

(Den of Geek)

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