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[Review] ‘Blair Witch’ is a Horror Game-changer That Will Completely Wreck You

Images courtesy of Lionsgate

It’s impossible to know when the next big thing is coming, but I always know it when I see it.

Since its inception in 2001, Bloody Disgusting has been a driving force of the hype behind of all of the game-changers, whether it be the rise of J-horror with Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, “torture” films like James Wan’s SAW, or found-footage with Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. Now, producers from all three (Roy Lee, Lionsgate, Steven Schneider, respectively) have aligned to resurrect The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s seminal horror film that introduced found-footage to the masses in 1999.

Our beloved genre has been in an endless funk, and there’s bizarre irony to the notion that a found-footage sequel to the film that gave birth to the subgenre is our savior. Talk about coming full circle.

Found-footage is basically a precursor to virtual reality, so it’s not all that surprising that you’ll see a resurgence in the next few years. But what many filmmakers will miss is that viewers will be embracing this approach not because of the first-person perspective, but because of the emotional experience.

This brings us to Blair Witch (shot under the pseudonym The Woods), Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s* assault on the senses that will leave many viewers shaken to the core.

Theatergoers will need not to have seen The Blair Witch Project or its sequel, Book of Shadows, to enjoy Blair Witch. Barrett keeps everything in canon while using the original film’s mythology against the viewer.

In Blair Witch, a new tape is discovered on the outskirts of the woods where Heather Donahue and her crew went missing years ago. It looks as if Heather is still alive, so her brother assembles a crew (with the aid of two locals) to document their search for her. After setting up camp, bizarre things begin to transpire, many of which also happened in the first film.

THE WOODS | via Lionsgate

Here’s the thing about Blair Witch that’s a bit of a spoiler – this is your only warning – Wingard and Barrett are magicians using sleight of hand to distract the audience. It’s pretty clear that the duo know a lot of horror fans were disappointed or underwhelmed by The Blair Witch Project and its finale (no disrespect intended). This film pretends to be that, and while the audience believes more and more that they’re watching a quasi-remake of the original, Wingard and Barrett are preparing a third act twist that’s as intense as any horror film has ever been.

Blair Witch won’t affect seasoned horror fans (as much), but rest assured that it will destroy everyone else. This film will hurt people. It’s the emotional experience that transcends traditional narrative storytelling and ascends to a place of Nirvana. What I mean by this is that, whether they can verbalize it or not, moviegoers understand the basic structure to a story. So, while someone watching Blair Witch may think they know what’s going to happen next, they don’t. The film breaks the mold of traditional horror and pushes the boundaries to the absolute brink.

While the complete annihilation of the narrative will throw viewers for a loop, Wingard sucker-punches them with a flurry of the most intense and jarring sound design in the history of horror, which is going to leave many viewers rattled. The sound is simply one of the many well-designed “props” in this relentless funhouse of terror thats coup de grâce is the claustrophobic tunnel sequence that will have everyone squirming for the exits.

Some will laud it, others will loathe it, but make no mistake: Blair Witch is that game-changer horror fans desperately have been waiting for. It will usher in a new breed of genre films that are targeted at creating an emotional experience above all else. “Scary” is probably an understatement as this may just be the first film since The Exorcist that will leave younger audiences scarred for life.

*Full disclosure: Both V/H/S films were produced by Bloody Disgusting.

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