Cycle of Grief: The Missed Message at the Heart of 'Blair Witch' - Bloody Disgusting
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Cycle of Grief: The Missed Message at the Heart of ‘Blair Witch’

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Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s Blair Witch, the stealthily-created reboot/sequel to The Blair Witch Project, is – in my opinion – misunderstood and unfairly maligned. There’s a little-discussed theme at the center of this movie that was overlooked in the debates over its perceived unoriginality, the found footage shooting style, and the decision to show what may or may not have been the titular entity.

But – appropriately – you have to look for it.

The movie centers on James’ (James Allen McCune) obsessive search for his sister Heather (Heather Donahue), lost two decades ago in the woods surrounding Burkittsville, Maryland. There is virtually no chance of Heather being still being alive after all this time and deep down James knows this, but a piece of footage newly discovered in the area gives him enough hope to go looking for her anyway. A handful of James’ friends and some local lookie-loo guides also realize this is a lost cause, but go along with him out of support and in order to document the proceedings.

Of course, it’s not until the end of the movie that due to some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey witchery, the newly discovered footage is the very footage that Lisa and the others are currently shooting. It’s a paradox. James’ desire to look for Heather leads them into the woods, which leads to his desire to look for Heather, which leads them into the woods, ad infinitum; an endlessly repeating loop perpetuated by his inability to simply let go.

This point is driven home in the most literal way possible in the movie’s final moments, during which James finds himself at the inevitable conclusion of his journey, facing the corner of a dilapidated house out of fear that simply looking at the being he’s encountered will kill him. At this point, he should know, on every logical level, that what he has found is not Heather or, at the very least, not the sister he knew. He’s seen first-hand the hell at the heart of the woods and what it does to those who tread there. He’s glimpsed the spindly-legged creature, whatever it may be, that dwells in the structure he’s wandered into.

And yet…

As James faces the corner, all too aware of the horrifying truth of the situation he’s in, he hears Heather’s voice behind him. In a direct parallel to the very first decision we see him make, in defiance of all logic and disbelief of the reality around him, he can’t not look, and it kills him.

James refusal to accept the death of his sister drives his every decision, on a macro and micro level, and ultimately destroys him and those closest to him. At its core, Blair Witch is about the devastating effects of an inability to properly grieve for the loss of a loved one and an argument that not all hope is healthy or productive.

That’s why Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s Blair Witch, the stealthily-created reboot/sequel to The Blair Witch Project, is – in my opinion – misunderstood and unfairly maligned. There’s a little-discussed theme at the center of this movie that was overlooked in the debates over its perceived unoriginality, the found footage shooting style, and the decision to show what may or may not have been the titular entity.

But, appropriately, you have to look for it.


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