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Cycle of Grief: The Missed Message at the Heart of ‘Blair Witch’

Cycle of Grief: The Missed Message at the Heart of ‘Blair Witch’

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.



  • pablitonizer

    Terrible film, it didn’t work then and it’s not gonna work in the future

  • Brandon
  • Meatwad

    I wanted to like this movie but couldn’t. So sad. The tough token black guy bothered me along with trying to show the ‘Blair witch’ or whatever it was in the woods. The plot of him trying to find his sister didn’t bother me and my interest was piqued, but it’s story execution didn’t fan out so well.

    • Daniel Anderson

      I agree they shouldn’t of tried to show the witch. one of the best things about the original was leaving it up tot he imagination which makes it subjectively more scary to the individual.

    • theundead

      Um that wasn’t the witch

  • Daniel Anderson

    When the stick figure it busted and the event follows. they should’ve kept up with that instead of the CGI / Pretty lights extra effects, IMO. The foot was extremely effective as well. Got chills now just thinking about it. I personally liked the 3rd addition, much better than blair witch 2.

  • Charles Dibiasi

    before this movie hit theaters, I was grooving on the trailers, but then the movie released and basically everyone called it crap, and I like to form my opinions but felt I needed to not see this movie. However when it just recently hit Amazon Prime, I decided to give it a go, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s not without it’s flaws but it was a fun little diversion from everyday melancholy for me. So yeah, I liked it. I guess there is a few more like me who enjoyed it,
    which is sweet relief.

  • Shay Lauderdale

    I loved this movie so so much. It answered so many question I had about the first film. I do not care what most people think of it. I saw it in the theatre with my partner & we both thought it was good.

    • Aaron Johnson

      I also liked it. I am an Uber fan of the first one, and I admit this one isn’t perfect but it definitely had its moments. The entire last 20 minutes were absolutely terrifying. My biggest complaint is one that I haven’t seen many people mention. I hated hated HATED that it was raining. Such a damn cliche. In my opinion, this should ONLY have taken place in the fall with very cold temps like the original. I mean, they seemed to be caught in a damned monsoon at the end.

      • The Drucifer

        As a resident of the area this takes place in we can get some torrential rain. Lots of it. Lot of small floods too.

    • Micah Unice

      Hear hear.

  • Collin

    As someone who was immensely excited for this movie as another Adam wingard/ Simon Barrett horror/ thriller, I was just so let down by it. And the author is right, it has that cool theme of grief as an unending cycle. The problem is its trapped in an extremely by the numbers found footage film (for fucks sake, the black guy dies first? REALLY?!). I’m hoping its them being recruited by a studio and not a sign that you’re next and the guest (both of which I love immensely) are the only good movies they ever make (I have yet to seedeath note).

  • Mayday

    I didn’t have a problem so much with the story line of the film as I did with the fact that so many people, especially those here who run BD, kept proclaiming this “THE scariest movie in eons” and I found nothing about it scary or revolutionary or unexpected (with the one exception, when the one girl crushed the stick figure). I don’t think it’s a bad film, I just don’t think it’s anything exceptional or all that scary to anyone who has seen lots of horror films.

    • ShadowInc

      I suspect that most online movie review sites tend to throw out hyperbolic statements like “The scariest movie ever” etc just to get their site mentioned on the poster for the movie. It’s free publicity for their site. Kissing the studio’s ass with these types of loving quotes also gets them access. I’d imagine if you say a movie is mediocre, or shitty, studios are going to remember that when they are promoting their next movie. There goes any exclusive content for you site..

  • chuck

    The biggest problem with the film was how poorly it was written. You can pile on all the themes you want but if the actual structure of the film is so poorly realized it was all for nothing.

    This could have been a great film and even that ending, which it seems you are trying to wave away in this article as something that was inevitable due to this deeper grief meaning, would have been fine IF the rest of the film didn’t have people making stupid decisions or falling into the tropes I thought these two filmmakers had up to this point subverted or at the very least avoided.

    This reeks of just rushed writing or half baked ideas that didn’t get the time or attention to flesh out.

    • WOLF

      100% agree. The characters were awful, annoying and stupid. By the end of the movie, I didn’t care about the time loop…the witch….or anything. I just wanted it to be over. I regret staying to the end hoping there would be something redeeming about the film.

  • Blood Boil

    Complete crap

  • Dewey Covington

    Interesting take on the movie! I really, truly hated it with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns, but it was mostly due to the severely unlikable, grating, annoying characters. Peter, in particular, was such an abusive douchebag to everyone all the time; his girlfriend Ashley was a shrill, useless whiner, and the two interlopers who lied about knowing where the Blair Witch house was weren’t much better. I appreciate the unique perspective on the movie though, and maybe I’ll watch again with it in mind.

  • Kevin McCormick

    Misunderstood? The so-called stealthily created reboot/sequel as you call it was simply intended to fool fans of the first film into wasting their money. Absolutely nothing about this movie was original. I think the fans of the first film recognize that and no amount of apologist article writing by establishment horror “journalists” will obscure that fact. Stop wasting our time with this garbage.

  • Satanzilla

    Total overthink.

    • MODOK

      Actually, it seems like an astute analysis. Even if it’s not correct, there’s certainly enough there to draw this conclusion. Not liking the movie is one thing, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an underlying theme.

      • Satanzilla

        It can’t be astute if it’s not correct, lol

        • MODOK

          What I mean is that no one other than Barrett and Wingard themselves could definitively confirm that theme, but from a viewer’s perspective I think it’s a pretty accurate analysis.

          • Satanzilla

            Nah. Overwrought, overthought. BD seems to have a real interest in making us like this dumb sequel. First it was all the praise, then when the movie sucked it becomes “a misunderstood film.” Sorry but it’s not “misunderstood” because we didn’t like it the way we were instructed to. We understand it just fine.

  • Creepshow

    I loved the first film, enjoyed Blair Witch, and understood people’s disdain for them both.

    That being said, I don’t grasp this grieving thing one bit. If you want to watch a movie about “letting go” and “grieving”, then watch…A Monster Calls.

  • Rohan

    The problem is that, the movie is boring. It’s so goddamn boring, because it’s the same exact movie as the first. Enter spooky woods, spooky stuff happens, people dissapear, find spooky house, face a corner, and die. At least the first one had good marketing, because without it, people wouldn’t think twice about it, or at least not think of it as highly. It’s the mystique that made the first so successful. It’s the thought that “Jesus Christ, did I just watch someone die?” If they are gonna do another one, I want something new. Like a interdimensional horror adventure, where some of the old cast meet up with a new set of characters and try to escape, or learn some rules of how the witch works. That would be interesting at least.

  • IWC-3PO

    Still trying to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.

  • I’m a very big fan of the original. One of my favorite horror movies. When it came to this movie though, I was left unimpressed but entertained enough. Didn’t hate it or love it. I did, however, hate the creature at the end. What a load of forced bullshit. And the stupid cg image on the camera’s display was ridiculously distracting for me in the final moments. Took me right out of it. So unnecessary. I wanted to really love this but it left me wanting more. Loved the voodoo dolls idea though. As far as this article though…… ummm can you say reaching? I mean sure the whole wanting to find his sister was the motivation to going out seeking her but no, there is no way that not being able to properly grieve over someone was the take away here. And if by some odd reason that was the movie’s point then it failed miserably. I call bs.

  • NOCC Monkey

    I didn’t mind it too awful much. I did think that it was a clever turn of events that the image he found in the video that he thought was his sister Heather, turned out to be the very footage that they themselves were recording and it was Lisa instead. For movies like this, I subscribe to the less is more theory and think they showed images of the witch (i suppose) a bit too much. It’s all about quick glimpses and distant shapes.

    • MODOK

      I don’t think they actually ever showed the witch (at least not for more than a millisecond). The tall, stretched tree creature is Elly Kedward, not the Blair Witch herself. There are articles out there where Simon Barrett explains this.

      • NOCC Monkey

        Ah. Thanks for clearing that up. Good to know!

  • Maxime C

    So it’s a movie about a the difficulty to grief.

    Book Of Shadows was better.

    • Barry El Beardo

      I actually really enjoy watching Book of Shadows!

      • Maxime C

        So do I !

    • JoeInTheBox

      I’m not going to claim BoS was better, because I hated the the married couple characters, but that may have been more the actors than the characters themselves, but I totally think BoS is way underrated.

  • Jeffrey Oak

    I rented this movie from redbox along with the Miss Peregrine School film and found it strange that both unrelated films featured similar looking creatures.

  • ArmitageX

    I thought it was a decent film. Didn’t blow me away or anything, but…it wasn’t horrible, either. I agree, though, that it was mostly just a higher-budgeted remake of the first film and it didn’t really expand on the mythos in any meaningful way. That said, I still enjoyed it to an extent (I don’t care what anyone says – that final chase through the house was intense). Overall, though, I still think it’s the weakest of the three “Blair Witch” films.

  • Brett Lovejoy

    Horrible garbage, this one. Had nothing going for it, and the kicker was watching Wingard try and backpedal, acting like people didn’t “get” the movie after it debuted to some terrible reviews.

  • Dark Darth

    I went and saw this because of the review on this site by Brad Miska who called it a game-changer. “This film will hurt people. It’s the emotional experience that transcends traditional narrative storytelling and ascends to a place of Nirvana” After reading that I thought I couldn’t possibly miss it. I don’t know what film Brad watched but it wasn’t the same film I watched.

  • I liked it–I don’t care what people think. No it didn’t provide a rebirth to the subgenre, but i thought it was a decent enough entry to the series.

    This article, though… I know the movie has been out for awhile, but this basically served as a spoiler for everything in the film. You can do analysis without this much synopsis, and the conclusion just basically restates the introduction, which if a pre-freshman-comp level mistake in writing. In the end, the only portion of the article actual dedicated to defending the argument is the introduction and the reiteration of the same introduction at the end. The rest is just a plot summary. Normally, I don’t comment on the quality of writing on here (and it might be because I’m in the middle of midterm grading and found myself looking for the comment/grading buttons), but this isn’t a good article. I hate being the guy that goes for insulting the writing, but it’s really bad.

  • DS Ullery

    Any profound exploration into the themes of grief and letting go is buried inside of a turgid rehash that is so bereft of creativity it ends with the same fucking shot that closed the original.
    But hey, this time they had a budget! Oh, there won’t be any of the escalating terror or increased sense of dread and outright panic that was cultivated in the first film, though.

    Instead the filmakers will re-stage the first film to the letter, adding lots of cheap soundtrack-sting jump scares , POV shots of people running through dark woods while their Go Pro cuts in and out, Stretch Armstrong’s pissed off, demonic mom and time displacement.

    At least Book of Shadows tried to forge its own identity. This was a piss poor repeat of a film that did much more with far less.

  • Craig Yeaster

    Bad article and even worse movie.

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