This past weekend was not a particularly impressive one at the box office. Three major films opened, and yet none of them were able to overcome a perfectly reasonable, but unimpressive, second week for Sully. One of the underperforming films included the unexpected return of an interesting horror property, Blair Witch.
It almost seems unfair calling Blair Witch a bomb, as, with its microscopic production budget ($5 million), the film is already profitable, regardless of the take. However, when compared to the way the original Blair Witch Project took theaters by storm, Lionsgate had to be expecting more. There are reasons that it didn't work out that way, however. These are our best explanations:
Found Footage Is A Tired Gimmick
While The Blair Witch Project was not the first movie to use the found footage trope, it was still the movie that introduced it to mainstream audiences. That made the original film unique. However, nearly two decades later, found footage has been done to death. The Paranormal Activity franchise by itself has nearly destroyed it single-handedly. The last one of those is less than a year old. We've seen it now, it's nothing new. While it was apparently felt that the film needed to bring this back in order to be "Blair Witch-like," it didn't do the most important thing that the original did, which was bring something new to the table.
It Came Out Far Too Late
If this movie was going to be made, it should have been done five, or even 10, years ago. If we learned one thing from Independence Day: Resurgence, it's that nobody is looking for sequels to movies from two decades ago. The fans who made the original a hit have likely moved on, and the younger audience has no connection to the name, and without the connection, there's nothing there. Blair Witch's main hook was its connection to the original, but if you've never seen it, that means less than nothing to you.
It Chose The Wrong Release Date
A quick review of hit horror movies shows an obvious pattern. They come out during the summer or they come out around Halloween. Blair Witch picked the wrong month, missing both of those windows entirely. Young people, the primary audience for horror movies, don't hit theaters as much right now. Teenagers are in school, and cinemas tend to take a shift toward more serious films, not the type that younger movie fans go for. The horror crowd had just finished watching the excellent Don't Breathe and they needed a break before their next major dose of the genre.
The Marketing Was Confusing
If there was one thing that The Blair Witch Project did right, it was the marketing. It was one of the earliest examples of an internet viral marketing campaign. Fans were less internet savvy because the internet itself was new, and so the implication that the events of the film actually happened had many moviegoers questioning the truth. The sequel tried a different tact. Their unique marketing idea was to promote the film as something else entirely. Up until San Diego Comic-Con, we all thought an unrelated film called The Woods was being released. While the idea had merit, the decision to let the cat out of the bag two months before Blair Witch hit theaters meant that whatever "wow" factor the reveal produced had worn off by the time the movie came out.
Blair Witch Is Not A Franchise
Last year, Jurassic World came out and blew the world away, becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. This, even though the last outing of the franchise, Jurassic Park III, came out almost as long ago as The Blair Witch Project. However, that series was able to build over three entries and become a name that people knew, even if they had never seen one of the films. Blair Witch had one movie people loved at the time, and a second that everybody hated from the very beginning. If all you have to trade on is your name, it had better be a stronger name than Blair Witch.