Brand new technology, same old witch.
Sixteen years after “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” disappointed the “Blair Witch Project” cult by doing something different, “Blair Witch” does as little different as possible. There are more characters this time, and they’re outfitted with GPS, GoPros, walkie-talkies and a drone-mounted camera. But they’re on the same woodland path as the first movie’s hapless trio.
Aside from having an essentially identical plot, this sequel links to the original genealogically. James (James Allen McCune) is the baby brother of Heather, who supposedly vanished in the haunted woods near Burkittsville, Maryland (a town that in reality is much closer to Harpers Ferry than to hell). He’s obsessed with learning her fate and has a fantasy of rescuing her.
James heads for the forest with not-quite-girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), his lifelong pal Peter (Brandon Scott) and the latter’s paramour, Ashley (Corbin Reid). Lisa is a film student who intends to turn their trip into a documentary, but all three of them are loaded down with cameras.
So are Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), horror buffs who found (and posted online) new video of Heather’s doomed excursion. They insist on accompanying the other four, which provides added opportunities for personality conflict – as well as more fake footage to be cut into the make-believe movie supposedly assembled from the video remains of their quest.
The six campers’ extensive video capability should allow them to be myth-busters, but what fun is that? So their devices begin to fail, along with the basic laws of physics. Time itself turns to taffy, a joke on the idea of real-time video that doesn’t quite pay off. Director Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett (“You’re Next,” “The Guest”) occasionally wink at the material but then quickly return to playing this nonsense for thrills rather than laughs.
“Blair Witch” runs only eight minutes more than the original, yet it feels about a half-hour longer. The new toys – especially the drone – allow for fresh situations, and there’s more blood and supernatural affliction than before. Mostly, though, the filmmakers just repeat familiar moves and expand established locations (while shooting in British Columbia, not Maryland).
Like all movies that purport to use found footage, “Blair Witch” includes angles that couldn’t have been produced by its characters, and scenes shot by people who in a rational universe would have dropped their cameras and scrammed. Unlike the first film, however, this one doesn’t conjure the headlong motion of terrified people on the run. Instead, the image more often jumps, swipes or chaotically pans.
These camera jolts are amplified by a pummeling soundtrack, the movie’s most impressive technical achievement. At its noisiest, “Blair Witch” at least sounds like something you haven’t seen before.
One and one-half stars. Rated R. Contains violence, profanity and creepiness. 89 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.