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In 1999, The Blair Witch Project surprised viewers with a unique style of filmmaking that didn't usually make it into the multiplex. "Found footage" was a new thing for many, and it gave the rough, jarring horror movie a feeling of reality which greatly enhanced its scares. Now, 17 years later, we have a direct sequel/reboot using the same structure to tell a very similar story.
Blair Witch is a sequel because the story picks up 17 years after the events of the first movie. James Allen McCune plays "James" the brother of Heather, the heroine of the original film who was all of four years old when his sister disappeared in the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland. He's never really gotten over his sister's disappearance, which makes his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) decide that his quest for answers is the perfect subject for her documentary film project. The irony of this is apparently lost on everybody.
James has decided to go into the woods to look for his sister because a man named Lane (Wes Robinson) posted a video online of the same house seen at the end of The Blair Witch Project, a house which is not supposed to exist. Lane says he also found the tape in the woods, however, he refuses to divulge where he found it, unless he, and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry), are allowed to join the expedition. They're convinced there is something going on in the woods, and they want to find it. Rounding out our band of heroes are James' friend since childhood Peter (Brandon Scott) and Peter's girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid). Thus, six people enter the same woods almost two decades after three kids vanished without a trace. It's not really a spoiler to say that things don't turn out too well for this crew, either.
While Blair Witch is designed as a sequel, it is ultimately a reboot, in the sense that the movie is essentially a remake, using a slightly different setup and a modern setting. To be fair, the modern setting does give our characters a new grab bag of toys to play with. Lisa outfits the entire team with earpiece cameras, allowing us to see the movie from nearly every perspective, though this often makes it difficult to figure out whose eyes you're seeing through. She's even brought a camera drone along in order to get some great atmospheric shots of the woods. They've also got GPS to be sure they don't get lost. One guess how well all that works out.
Blair Witch relies a little too heavily in its first half on jump scares in order to try and keep the audience engaged. However, the second half kicks off with a literal snap, and what follows is an absolutely solid, tension-filled, horror movie. It doesn't do anything particularly noteworthy or unique, but everything it does do, it does right. Once the kids start running for their lives, they don't stop until the credits roll, and you'll follow along right beside them, wondering what they'll run into next.
Blair Witch is missing a lot of the "realism" that the found footage genre tries to create. Some of this isn't really the movie's fault. The footage doesn't look any different than your standard Hollywood movie, but part of the reason for that is that home video technology is perfectly capable of giving you that kind of look. Shooting the film that's supposed to take place in 2014 on a 480p camcorder simply wouldn't have made any sense.
Ultimately, Blair Witch is stuck in something of a catch 22. If they follow too closely in the footsteps of the original film, they fail to bring anything new to the table. However, if they do anything too different, they run the risk of being too much like every other horror movie out there, and failing to be a "Blair Witch" movie (one of the primary sins of the other sequel, Book of Shadows). The film does its best to walk that tightrope between the two disparate ideas. It stumbles a few times, but never completely falls.
2016 has been a remarkably good year for the horror genre. As such, Blair Witch may get lost in the shuffle among numerous, better films. However, if you've seen all the year's other horror offerings already, you'll probably enjoy Blair Witch well enough.