Blair Witch Review: Franchise Fred Approves
Franchise Fred has a complicated relationship with the Blair Witch franchise. I did not like the original film. I thought it was a masterpiece of marketing, the original viral marketing really, but all to cover up the fact that the film didn’t have the goods. I owe it a revisit but good for Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick using their resources to great success. I loved Blair Witch 2 precisely because it called bullshit on the first film, and held the audience accountable for buying into the invented mythology. I get how that betrays true fans of the original, and Blair Witch 2 needs to exist and be considered a disappointment to get us to Blair Witch (3).
A return to the Burkittsville woods is also a return to the original footage “found” in The Blair Witch Project. It’s Heather’s brother who goes back into the woods looking for her when a new lead arises. His friends join him for support and they team up with some “experts” in the form of Blair Witch vloggers who promise they know where the house from Heather’s video is. The franchise going astray (in some eyes) and laying dormant facilitates the third film going back to its roots.
The Blair Witch Project’s ultimate cachet was minimalism. They didn’t have special effects so they built up the legend so that mundane objects would be scary. Blair Witch now has set pieces of horror, all based in the legend but evolving them further. In particular, a set piece in a tree is intense, and a climactic sequence actually dislodges a character’s camera, creating a brand new angle on the scene.
I loved how Blair Witch 2 made fun of the pile of rocks and bundle of sticks. That was funny. But Blair Witch being the bigger badder sequel, they do the pile of rocks and bundle of sticks right. To see bigger, badder stick bundles and rock piles really makes you pay respect and go, “Okay, I’m sorry I laughed at your omens of doom.”
If the payoff of The Blair Witch Project was ultimately its lack of payoff, this Blair Witch is entirely satisfying. We see what happens this time. Graphic on camera images are unsettling yet completely true to the legend of The Blair Witch. Some of the squirmy body stuff will make you cringe.
It wouldn’t be Blair Witch if someone wasn’t running through the woods with a shaking camera, and Blair Witch doesn’t disappoint. The original became legendary for causing motion sickness, but both movies and real cameras are many generations beyond that. Cameras have built in stabilizers and many of the angles in Blair Witch are attached to the character. So instead of extended shaking running, we get intense quick bursts, and those portions are intercut with other angles from different available cameras.
The performances are more believable than the original. All respect to Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams for improvising with the hints they were given by their directors, but the characters in this Blair Witch are not one dimensional stereotypes. They all have a reason to be there and behave intelligently. There is still a douchebag though, but it makes sense that he would be a douchebag.
In case you haven’t followed my reviews of found footage movies, I discovered around Chernobyl Diaries (which actually ditches the cameras) that douchebags are the heroes of the found footage movement. Only a douchebag would keep filming during a crisis, and all of those films, including Blair Witch 1, have to explain that there’s at least one douchebag who insists on documenting it for some reason. So a Blair Witch vlogger desperate for some action could conceivably be a douchebag, but many non douchebags are responsible for far more footage in Blair Witch. For what it’s worth, the one found footage movie with no douchebags is The Hunted.
This franchise is quite significant in that it began with a mere curiosity and developed its franchise into far more interesting entries, each one retroactively making the original more interesting by contributing to the surrounding mythology that was the main draw in the first place. Franchise Fred approves Blair Witch.