Interestingly enough, as I was walking to the cinema with my companion for Blair Witch, I was asked if I'd ever been properly scared whilst watching a horror movie. Not just made to jump a few times, or have been enraptured by a couple scenes, but actually to have sat through a film in abject terror. Aside from last year's 'The Nightmare' (read my review right here) which gave me my first horror-induced sleepless nights, no motion picture has really had that much of a lasting negative effect on my psyche. My experience post 'The Nightmare' can also be attributed to much more than the 'scariness' of the film (that wasn't what I would call terrifying); particularly it's subject matter and disturbing revelation. There's a reason that, at the time, I called it quite possibly the scariest film ever made. But the answer to my friends question was absolutely resolute: no. No, I have never watched a horror movie that was difficult to handle whilst on the screen. And I've seen them all, trust me.
My answer has changed.
|The awesome promo material for a fake movie...|
Yet, to discerning horror fans, Wingard carries the giddy excitement that the Ti West of yonder once conjured, and the Comic-con preview was naturally packed out, with 'The Woods' promotional materials and tees enveloping the screening. Pretty soon, the Blair Witch influence could be clearly felt, and then very quickly it's existence as part of that canon was nigh-on confirmed. Half-way through, a switcheroo occurred, and when the house lights came back on all the posters had been magically replaced with 'Blair Witch' ones. A nice marketing move that I suppose is a bit of a meta-reference in itself to the real source of the original's scares: the intoxicatingly 'real' promo angle that the creators took, to the extent that many audience members believed they were watching a true snuff film.
|Some new mythology being explored by, erm, 'Darknet666'.....|
because conspiracy theory....
The influence of BWP is instantly recognisable, with the exact same font and formatting used for the hokey 'it's all true' statement at the head of the film. And from there on in, a tricky tightrope is masterfully walked between homage, reference, and originality. Instantly, the tone presents itself as almost joyous. A self-aware comedy, almost: the way in which the characters act about spending time in the woods amounts to Scream levels of meta. Finally, a group of people who don't seem to relish the idea of going out into seemingly haunted desolate spots. And the comedy continues for the better part of 45 minutes I'd say... fading out in part due to some spooky shenanigans then coming back in at the halfway mark for the films last final (and very funny) jokes. Very similar, stylistically, to the dark comedic undertones of You're Next and the Guest; not a bad thing at all.
|Oh fuck... no... don't go in the house....|
He's going in the house, isn't he?
I mentioned earlier that this film terrified me. Let me explain why. In most horror films, the original BWP included, night time and day time sequences are alternated. In the day time, audiences feel safe, and at night they are trained to expect jumps and horror. It's just how life works. What disappointed me about the first venture into Burkittsville woods was that 50% of the action felt completely safe - and adding the daylight sequences at the beginning that changed to around 70-80%. There was no sustained terror. And, in fact, that's what you find with most horror movies. This incarnation of BW plays a funny mind game that the original wasn't able to due to budget concerns. It uses drone shots to disorientate and show that the landscape has somehow shifted and the roads have disappeared. But best of all, at the halfway mark or perhaps just a bit later, it even warps time to create a situation in which it is perpetual night. Yep, that's right, creepy flashlights and silence in the woods occupy the whole second half of the movie. You know the tension that occurs 4-5seconds before a jumpscare? That level of insane stress is stretched over a 45 minute period.
|Despite it's devotion to the original, Wingard and Barrett do have some|
fun in creating new ideas.
Often, before the finale (which, yes, does involve a spooky fucking house), the scares come in the form of horrific sounds that either startle, or build in intensity in the surround sound - genuinely freaking out the audience who cannot escape them. But the final 5-10 minutes are by FAR the worst. From the moment where James steps through an open window and into a dilapidated house in the middle of a thunderstorm, we are thrust into an unimaginable nightmare. Jumpscare after jumpscare, terrifying image after terrifying image, an incredibly slow walk down into a basement (which is even worse than it sounds; people were seriously saying 'no no no no no no no no' in the screening), a claustrophobic crawl through a tunnel with the camera constantly turning sharp corners to reveal what's round them, and what could possibly be the scariest frame of the decade: a glimpse of what I believe was supposed to be the Blair Witch. A terrifying, abstract, and bizarre design that only flashes up for a millisecond or two, but really heightens the sense of all encompassing fear that I was feeling by this point. In fact, the diversity of the scares serves to showcase Wingard's talent for horror movie making (as if that needed to be verified) even more. Particularly in aforementioned house scene, and the scenes in the camp. Aside from those, the sets mainly consist of flashlights shining into trees (yes, I know, that's bad enough); a surprisingly minimalist picture.
|A beautifully lit, vertigo-inducing scene from just before|
the film goes balls-to-the-wall scary.
The images presented onscreen look fantastic to boot, thanks to a nifty re-shuffle of the shoddy production values of found footage. Instead, we have crisp clear 1080p/4k recordings combined with some lovely drone shots, the usual juddery hand cam, and a couple shots from an old tape-video device that presumably act as a reference (more on that in a sec). The greens are lush and attractive, the blacks dark and ominous, and the browns (and reds at certain points) are earthy and realistic. All in all, it felt autumnal and high quality. At night, when torches illuminate small sections of the trees, the images take on a far more realistic and terrifying feel. When combined with some expert surround sound, the whole package looks and sounds like a professional doing a professional piece of work. A departure from the candy-colours and retro sounds of the duo's two previous offerings, but an effective and interesting transition from the masters of cool and subversive, to the masters of terror. One wonders what they will bring to the table next....
|A more developed realisation of those creepy-ass stick|
figure things from BWP.
The acting is of a similarly high standard. All unknown players, really, which I suppose can be counted as a reference. But the right kind of reference, given that it adds an extra dose of realism to the finished product. Unknown actors will never help sell a film, but when the brand and the people behind it can sell it excellently, then they are a brilliant asset to bringing people into the world of a film. Seeing Matt Damon on the screen creates some kind of invisible sheen that diminishes the horror. With Blair Witch, on the other hand, I felt that the characters were real people. Some were a little stereotyped, sure, but horror trades on these characteristics. And the internet conspiracy people - 'darknet666' is funnily accurate to the 4chan demographic.
|Perhaps a bit much for claustrophobics.... This is a painfully long and|
painfully scary scene.
Interestingly, Wingard himself stated that he wanted Blair Witch to feel like a 'haunted hayride through the woods', and I feel that this is what we have here: a carnival attraction. Imagine one of those 'horror mazes' or walkthrough haunted houses, but with a real sense of fear and danger. There's fun to be had, but it might not fit your definition of the word.... If you want to see something that wont scar you for life, but will absolutely terrify you and keep you in a state of abject horror for a sustained period of time, then this is your kind of fucked-up fairground.
|Blair Witch gets 4 stars!|