Some horror movie directors don’t seem to understand that just watching other people lose their shit from fear isn’t necessarilly scary; it can inspire other emotions depending on the context, like amusement, irritation, or even apathy. Quarantine, the extraneous remake of Spanish zombie film REC, was a good example: Jennifer Carpenter was a hysterical mess for the last 30 minutes of the movie, rendering it all but unwatchable. Blair Witch relies on the same technique, with equally disappointing results.
The last half hour of Blair Witch see the surviving characters running around aimlessly while shouting each other’s names over and over again. The setting and events of the film are unsettling, but the OTT panicking and idiotic behaviour of the characters drains the proceedings of any tension. When I think back to unforgettably scary sequences in movies – the first kill in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the shower scene in Psycho, or the ending of Don’t Look Now – the characters themselves aren’t acting like they’re about to shit their pants from fear (not until the last second, anyway). The fear and tension comes from the dreadful atmosphere and the fact the audience has access to information the characters don’t. It’s true you can have effective extended sequences where someone is absolutely terrified (the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but if you try to keep that level up for too long you’ll just wear out your audience. I felt like the makers of Blair Witch didn’t have any ideas beyond mimicking the events of the first film, and sought to rely on on viewers having an uncritical reaction along the lines of “look, these guys are totally scared, so this must be a really frightening situation!”
Blair Witch Project was an influential film that popularized the whole “found footage” genre, as well as the amateur shaky-cam visual style. It received plenty of critical accolades when it was released, but it also has a very mixed reputation among horror fans with many considering it rather overrated. This sequel, simply titled Blair Witch, is set two decades after the original, and sees the brother of one of the people who disappeared all those years ago going back to the woods to try and find out what happened to her. He manages to rope a couple of friends into joining him, and is also obliged to bring a couple of local horror nuts along as well (bad idea). The characters are cliched and lacking in charisma, and the script is moribund; there’s no wit or humour, and it’s hard to care about the characters even in the face of their inevitable fates.
The Black Hills Forest in which the movie is set is actually quite atmospheric, and the first half of the film is functional if generic. The movie’s real problems start once things begin to go wrong in the forest, and it becomes clear that the makers of Blair Witch either didn’t trust their own abilities to create frightening sequences, or the capacity of its audience to pay attention. In the end, the surviving characters spend an eternity searching for each other in the dark, through the woods and abandoned buildings, breathing heavily and repeatedly calling out one another’s names. There’s nothing scary about it, it’s just inane and boring. Blair Witch is a stultifying film and it’s guaranteed to try the patience of most serious horror fans.