Jumping back on Blair Witch scare wagon

DIGITAL UPDATE: Gone is the shaky handheld camera work - instead, Blair Witch features GPS trackers, ear cams and even a drone


    Sep 14, 2016

    Jumping back on Blair Witch scare wagon


    SHOT on a shoestring with cheap video cameras and unknown actors, The Blair Witch Project established the "found-footage" sub-genre, redefining horror and breathing new life into indie filmmaking.

    Since its inauspicious release on 27 screens in 1999, the pioneering film from Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick has been hailed as a modern horror classic, despite having no special effects, monsters or gore.

    It made use of viral online marketing in a way no movie had done before and, despite its US$60,000 (S$82,000) budget, raked in US$248 million worldwide.

    Book Of Shadows, a special effects-laden sequel that dispensed with the found-footage formula, was rushed out a year later and derided, putting the franchise on ice for 16 years.

    Enter Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the respective director and screenwriter behind Blair Witch, the latest instalment in the franchise, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.

    "The most immediate feedback you can get from an audience is from doing a comedy or a horror film," Wingard said.

    "And that's why with this film, we specifically made it with the mainstream reaction in (mind)... to get lots of jump scares, lots of direct audience feedback."

    Developed, shot and marketed in secret as The Woods, the film was preview-screened at San Diego Comic-Con in July, with Wingard stunning fans by announcing its real title.

    Blair Witch wipes out any lingering memory of Book Of Shadows, serving as a direct sequel to the original.

    Film student James Donahue, played by James Allen McCune, investigates the disappearance of his sister, Heather.

    Last seen screaming in a cabin the woods in the original film, she might still be alive, a mysterious YouTube video suggests.

    James and love interest Lisa (Callie Hernandez), with school friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), head into the Maryland wilderness.

    They hook up with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the strange locals who posted the YouTube video, as darkness falls and things begin going bump in the night.

    The grainy found footage formula has been updated by advances in digital technology, with the hand-held "shaky cam" usurped by GPS trackers, ear cams and even a drone.

    "It was probably the most authentic way of getting us into the position of what our characters would be going through," McCune said of the shoot.

    Curry recalled "screaming and jumping in my seat with my sweater over my face" when she saw the finished product, remembering the terrifying experience of the film shoot in British Columbia, Canada.

    Reviews from Toronto have been mixed, with some critics praising Wingard's direction, but others noting a more brash tone to the film, while lamenting its overuse of jump scares.

    The Hollywood Reporter called it a "dull retread".

    Variety's take was that it was "an effectively jumpy, artfully artless follow-up".