This has been a great year for fans of horror movies. Don’t Breathe is dominating the box office; Korea’s disturbing The Wailing deserves some Best Foreign Language Picture love; the historically accurate The Witch was divisive, but the people who liked it, liked it a lot (myself included); The Conjuring 2 was even better than the already-good original; Green Room was brutal and excellent; and none other than Stephen King called Hush “up there with Halloween and, even more, Wait Until Dark. White knuckle time.” Coincidentally, although probably not, none of these quality films are of the found footage variety. They’re scary without relying on a once-effective gimmick that’s now synonymous with titles like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Even 10 Cloverfield Lane, the sequel (of sorts) to one of the most famous found footage movies ever, ditched the format in favor of a third-person narrative.
The same could be said of the 2000 film Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the most direct-to-video film to ever be released in theaters. The meta premise wasn’t horrible — a group of Blair Witch fanatics visit Burkittsville, Md., where The Blair Witch Project was set — but the execution was; Book of Shadows is a run-of-the-mill psychological slasher flick that barely resembles its predecessor. A new spin isn’t always a bad thing (Furious 7 is strikingly different than The Fast and the Furious, and only a Rick Yune fanatic would argue it’s the lesser film), but Book of Shadows — with gargled songs from Nickelback and Godhead on the soundtrack — took everything that helped the scrappy original become the most successful independent movie of all-time, and made it generic.
Now, 17 years after Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard briefly became household names, The Blair Witch Project finally gets a proper sequel in… Blair Witch. (It was known as The Woods before the San Diego Comic-Con reveal.) The plot is instantly familiar: A group of photogenic friends and a local couple head to Maryland’s Black Hills Forest to see for themselves what this Blair Witch nonsense is all about. One of the friends is James (James Allen McCune), Heather’s brother who years later think she’s still alive after, in a nod to the viral marketing of the original, convincing footage is uploaded online. But the world was a different place in 1999 than it is 2016, and Blair Witch uses our technological advances to its clever advantage; the characters are equipped with cameras and tracking devices. There’s even a drone.
Unfortunately, that’s where the cleverness ends.