By Ben Bussey
I don’t mean to be a killjoy, honestly I don’t. However, when I see the bulk of online horror fandom losing their shit over something I just can’t get fired up about, I feel like I need to voice the opposing view. If you’re among the excited ones, then good for you, honestly. But I’m not, and I can’t believe I’m the only one.
Allow me to elaborate.
Well actually, first of all I should make sure we’re all on the same page. If you’ve been anywhere near any movie news-related sites this weekend, you’ll know we just had the mighty San Diego Comic Con – and while horror news coming out of the event was fairly thin on the ground, there was one pretty massive revelation. We’d known for some time that director Adam Wingard had a new horror movie coming up entitled The Woods; little was known about this beyond the fact that it’s a found footage centred on some young folks who get lost in some woods and are swiftly swept up shit creek, and there were a few accompanying quotes declaring it to be a major event for the genre. The signs may have been there (quite literally, as Brian Collins points out at Birth Movies Death), but it still came as a massive surprise to all of us that The Woods is in fact Blair Witch, a direct sequel to the 1999 smash hit The Blair Witch Project.
Now, I can absolutely understand why this news has got a lot of horror fans frothing at the mouth. Anyway you look at it, The Blair Witch Project was bona fide game changer, and one of the most distinctive, unique horror movies of the last twenty years. That having been said, it’s also long been hugely divisive – and I’ve always been on the naysayer side of that divide. Many people, our own Keri included, went into the film for the first time relatively blind, and were left shaken to the core. As for myself, I made the same mistake that I keep telling myself not to make all these years later: I paid way too much attention to the hype, read far too much about it beforehand, and went in fully expecting to figuratively if not literally shit myself – and was left monumentally underwhelmed. And struggling with motion sickness, but that’s another matter.
And here’s the problem: even before it was revealed that The Woods was in fact Blair Witch, I was getting a sense of deja vu (and I’m not suggesting I guessed what it really was, by the way). All the trailers and pre-publicity for The Blair Witch Project declared in a stark and straight-faced fashion that it was truly THE most terrifying film ever made – and, lo and behold, all the pre-publicity for The Woods/Blair Witch has done exactly the same. Given that, for this horror fan at least, these declarations proved utterly untrue the first time around, surely I can be forgiven for feeling sceptical this time.
But that’s not even the worst of it. What makes me feel even sadder about Blair Witch is seeing Adam Wingard become a franchise guy. Now, I’m by no means Wingard’s biggest fan (quite enjoyed You’re Next and The Guest, hated his entries in V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, haven’t seen any of his earlier stuff), but I respected that this was a horror filmmaker who was climbing the ladder and making a name for himself off the back of original material of his own creation. Too often we see filmmakers of this calibre relegated to stuff that’s beneath them once they break big: I remain hugely disheartened that Starry Eyes directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer are following up that brilliant breakthrough with a sequel to Mama, and even though I have high hopes for Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, it still stinks that one of the best horror filmmakers of our time is making a follow-up such a subpar film. Of course, we can’t really accuse Blair Witch of being a quick cash-grab as we might those other sequels, given it’s been almost sixteen years since the last film in the series – 2000’s unforgettably awful Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – but it still can’t help but feel like a safe play based around a marketable title. (Side note here: both Wingard and Flanagan have been linked to the in-development Halloween reboot, but to the best of our knowledge nothing’s confirmed there yet. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.)
Quite apart from all that… neither the earlier ‘The Woods’ trailer nor the new Blair Witch trailer give me much hope that we have a truly scary movie on our hands, and certainly not one that breaks significant new ground the way the early hype has suggested. It seems clear the film will be considerably more visceral and traditionally horrific than The Blair Witch Project, in which a great deal more will be seen; and I can’t deny a begrudging curiosity about whether or not Wingard which actually reveal the witch herself this time.
Of course, we’ve had a hell of a lot of found footage movies since 1999 (another reason to not hold The Blair Witch Project in the highest regard), and while the vast majority of them have been unspeakably awful, there have been at least a few truly great, truly scary ones – and my gut tells me Blair Witch will borrow heavily from these. The moments that most jump out from the trailer below, (aside from those which point to the original of course) remind me of the most heart-thumping moments from the [REC] movies, and the wince-inducing climax of The Borderlands. Of course, a lot of the wider audience that heads into Blair Witch will be unaware of those films – and call me a cynic, but I can’t help suspecting that Wingard and Lionsgate may be counting on just that.
Please believe me when I say I hope I am proven wrong. Like any sensible person, I hope every new movie I go see will be good. I just can’t get as excited about Blair Witch as so many seem to be, and can’t shake the feeling that the hype will once again prove empty.