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Blair Witch (2016)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/3/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/6/2017

We live in a world of 24-hour news where we are bombarded by entertainment news and hype. It's very common for movie release dates to be announced years in advance, which means a bevy of trailers and spoilers before the movie hits screens. So, it's a treat when filmmakers like J.J. Abrams can keep their projects under wraps and allow them to hit theaters with little to no information available to the public. How refreshing to actually be surprised by something like this. (Even if the resulting film isn't very good. I'm looking at you 10 Cloverfield Lane.) Sometimes a situation like this can be the result of a head-fake. Early in 2016, a trailer for a movie called The Woods began making the rounds, but not long before the release date, it was revealed that this film was actually Blair Witch. Seventeen years later, was the world ready to re-enter those woods?

Heather Donahue was one of three college students who disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, in the case which became The Blair Witch Project. Her brother, James (James Allen McCune), has researched the case for years and he's recently found footage online which purports to be additional footage from the original disappearance. James' friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) decides to make a documentary about his quest. James contacts the person who posted the footage, and along with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), he ventures to Burkittsville. Once there, they meet locals Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who insist on joining the group, as they know where the tapes were found. Equipped with multiple cameras and GPS, they enter the woods to see if James can find the house which was glimpsed in Heather's footage (and which the authorities have never located). After setting up camp, strange noises can be heard from the forest. The following morning, the group finds that not only are they not alone in the woods, they are trapped in a nightmare with no escape.

In July 1999, my wife and I arranged for my parents to watch our two month old daughter so that we could go see a movie called The Blair Witch Project. It was our first time being away from the baby, but we A) needed to get out of the house, and B) had bought into the hype surrounding this little horror movie. Well, as it turns out, we should have saved our special day out for something else, as the movie was a crushing disappointment. Not only was the shaky-cam nausea-inducing when seeing it on the big-screen, but the movie was an incredible amount of nothing. However, our view was clearly in the minority, as the film went on to bring in $140 million dollars. This success lead to the release of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 the following year -- a film which was savaged by critics and fans. For all intents and purposes, this appeared to be the end of the series. But, then we are suddenly treated to a new Blair Witch sequel. A new take on the series will be refreshing, right?

Yeah, that would have been great. Instead, what we get is a remake disguised as a sequel. Instead of doing something new, Director Adam Wingard and Writer Simon Barrett make all of the mistakes and take all of same narrative wrong turns as the original. We get a found-footage movie where a group of people go into the woods, get lost, hear noises, run around, scream, and then something almost happens at the end. (Or, we can always go back to how Brian Griffin summarized The Blair Witch Project on Family Guy: "Okay, they're - they're in the woods. The camera keeps on moving. Uh... I think they're looking for some witch or something; I don't know, I wasn't listening. Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening. Something about a map. Nothing's happening. It's over. A lot of people in the audience look pissed.") I can get behind any movie with adopts the Aliens approach wherein the sequel is about a group who go back to the setting of the first movie equipped and ready. However, that notion flies out the window very quickly here and it doesn't take the movie long to settle into a groove which is simply too familiar. Not only in comparison to the original movie, but most found-footage movies in general, in which nothing happens for the longest time, and the film expects us to be satisfied with a flurry of bland action at the end.

My wife works with children who have language disorders and some have them have difficulty asking "W" questions. They certainly wouldn't with Blair Witch. What are those people doing? Why are they lost? Where are they now? When can we turn this off? This movie thinks that some shaky-cam and flying tents can scare us, but the whole affair is simply dull. Sure, some things happen in the second half of the film, but the terror which the characters appear to be experiencing never makes its way off of the screen to the viewer. We simply watch and wait for it to be done. Adding insult to injury is the conclusion, which seems to suggest that something deeper is going on, but it's left open to viewer interpretation. I've long-since felt that Wingard and Barrett's work was overrated and hopefully this movie will convince others of the same. Everyone involved could have easily made a kick-ass Blair Witch movie in which something actually happened, but the ball was really dropped here.

Blair Witch makes going into the woods look devastatingly boring on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. Being a found-footage film, we get the usual amount of faux video issues, such as static and rolling. However, that aside, the image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no true defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably the green trees, and the image is never overly bright or dark (even when the lights go out). The level of detail is good, as the image is rarely soft, and the depth is good. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1) audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The strange noise scenes may not be effective, but they do provide palpable subwoofer effects and detailed surround sound. The track really shows off the mix, as we get distinct audio coming from the rear channels, and it's obvious how much thought was given to the sound placement.

The Blair Witch Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Adam Wingard and Writer Simon Barrett. "Neverending Night: The Making of Blair Witch" (107 minutes) is a pack of six featurettes which focus on the story, the cast, location shooting, editing, and sound. The pieces contain a ton of on-set footage and comments from Wingard, Barrett, the makers of The Blair Witch Project, and the cast. Given its length, this basically becomes a documentary which gives an in-depth overview of the creation of and production of this movie. (We learn that Barrett's first draft of the script was very different and it was changed to be more like the original. What a disappointment.) "House of Horrors: Exploring the Set" (16 minutes) allows Wingard and Production Designer Tom Hammock to take us on a tour of the house set, which provides a lot of details on the decisions which went into the creation of the sets.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long