Why Not? A Blair Witch Rant (SPOILERS)

Turn back now if you don’t wish to know anything about the new Blair Witch movie.

Alright, now that the lamers are gone, and it’s just you and me, let’s talk Blair Witch. Going into this movie at (almost) 29 years old, and having seen the original in theaters, I knew that I really wanted it to be good. Is that any different than any other movie you pay to see in theaters? With my new favorite director (Adam Wingard) at the helm and his awesome writing partner (Simon Barrett) navigating, this ship was bound for greatness, right?

As I stated previously, I really thought I knew what people were not going to like about this movie, but I’ve yet to see a single person mention any of my nitpicks. And that is what they are; nitpicks. I’ll just go for it. Rip the band-aid off quick. The only two black characters in this movie felt so damn wasted. Even though Peter (Brandon Scott) was supposed to be the annoying skeptic, I couldn’t help but enjoy his musings, and interaction with everyone. Especially Lane (Wes Robinson), the local yokel stoner conspiracy theorist epitome of an internet troll. When he’s off wandering out in the woods, nonchalantly, he falls victim to what has been a joke in horror movies for at least a few decades now: the black dude dies first! I kept thinking, “It’s Adam and Simon playing with our genre expectations again! Not falling for it! They wouldn’t fall into that trope trap! Right?! He’s gonna come back later!” Nope. And he gets killed by a fucking tree. A TREE FALLS ON THE BLACK DUDE DIES FIRST CLICHE. This did disappoint me. And I’m really surprised no one else has touched on this.

To the people complaining that these characters were bland, and they had no character development: you’ve seen the original, right?! Granted, I haven’t revisited it in quite some time (I’ve been meaning to since I heard about this sequel, but life and shit, ya know?), but from what I remember, it was some of the stiffest, boring acting I can think of. The only character development I’m aware of is their descent into complete bat shit Mountains of Madness hysteria. And some would argue that’s part of the charm of the original. It makes them feel more real. And I agree. Untrained actors (but they were improv people IIRC) flingin’ low-grade cameras around getting the color in their hair scared out of them makes for pretty convincing “performances”. Which brings me back to Blair Witch; how did the acting feel worse to anyone? Granted, maybe we didn’t get as much time to watch the slow burn as they went from “Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing” to “I’m so sorry for everything/tell my family I love them” hopelessness.

But let’s think about that for a second. They know something happened to James’ (James Allen McCune) sister in those woods 20 years ago. So, for them to take the same amount of time to be convinced that there’s definitely something wrong, and try to play it off in the slow burn fashion would just be insulting to the audience from a storytelling standpoint. Now, if you want to talk about lack of development I will not argue with you about Ashley (Corbin Reid). Again, the only black female in the cast, and she is just a glutton for punishment. Having almost zero character to begin with, she seems to immediately take the brunt of the weird/wacky stuff that they seemingly couldn’t figure out how to implement so they just said, “Let’s do that shit to Ashley! Who cares, right?” Right out of the gate she cuts her foot in the haunted as hell creek which is obviously not going to be okay. More on that later. Then, she suffers from what sounds like multiple broken legs/bones. Then she’s creepy, feverish zombie Ashley. Then she’s gross-out-exhibit Ashley. Then she’s throw-away-anti-climatically Ashley when she (again, the only black female in the cast) falls out of a damn tree. If you’re keeping score; that’s two characters killed basically by or using trees. In a movie about an absurdly all-powerful, inter-dimensional, twisted ass witch! Disappointment here, as well.

Here’s where I’ve spent most of my mulling, and imaginative deconstruction. With all the shit they threw at Throw-Away-Ashley, there was so much potential. Against my better judgment, I ask that you indulge me and my dipshittery, momentarily. So, we see that something is clearly going on inside Ashley’s foot/body, right? We’ve seen the stick-figures, and the “lightning struck” tree(s), right? What if, after having been separated from James and Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley wanders aimlessly (no changes here yet), to no avail. Her foot in more pain than ever now, she stops in a small clearing before the rain starts pouring down. In the light of the moon, she takes a moment to inspect her wound further. She takes off her shoe/boot, and we’re treated to what looks like a tree root sticking ever so slightly out of her bloodied foot/sock. She attempts to touch it, maybe remove it, thinking that she stepped on it at some point, but realizes that it’s protruding out of her. Cut back to whoever, and revisit her in quickly spliced shots from her dropped camera. Over the course of the next few shots that get flashed in between what’s going on with the other characters, we witness Ashley’s transformation, if slightly out of frame to give some ambiguity as to what we’re witnessing. Maybe, at one point, we cut to her ear-cam, but it’s disorienting, and confusing at first because we hear Ashley’s sobs (thought they’re muffled by something for some reason), but the view is far too tall to be Ashley, and all we see are branches. Cue the lightning, and the rain. We don’t see Ashley for a while, left to assume that was the last of her, but then in the deluge of the storm, Peter emerges from the forest, looking worse for wear. He’s stumbling about, but he managed to find an ax from the campsite, you know… For reasons. Anyway, he meanders into a clearing, and then the POV cuts to a camera pointing up from the ground, and we get a better look at Peter. The audience pieces together that it’s the same view we got earlier of Ashley. Peter finds Ashley’s boot on the ground next to a tree. He starts yelling her name. We hear a response in the form of the same muffled Ashley from before, screaming. Peter can’t believe what he’s hearing, it sounds like Ashley is inside the tree! He tells her he’s going to get her out, and begins chopping at the tree. Maybe cut back to the other characters at this point, but when we come back to Peter, Ashley’s screams have subsided, and Peter realizes too late that mixed with the rain water, forming a puddle at the base of the tree, is blood.

I haven’t thought about what happens to Peter after this, but there you have it. My take on what could have possibly been a better payoff to Throw-Away-Ashley. Maybe that’s really dumb and too Tales From the Crypt for you? I kept the tree, at least? It’s just not falling on them, or being fallen out of. Whatever. Back to discussing the actual movie!

Believe it or not, that’s kind of where my gripes end. Peter and Ashley. Although, Ashley did have the really cool moment with the “voodoo stick-figure”. Any of the characters could have executed the girl from The Following (Talia). One of the things I really loved was the atmosphere. Some people say that the lighting was too professional, and it didn’t have the same effect as the original because a lot of it felt too staged. But, man, I couldn’t disagree more! The woods were more dense, the lighting more tense, and the overall feeling of claustrophobia creeping around your head like a vine even though you’re outside, in the woods! Adam Wingard cut his teeth on found footage in the first two V/H/S movies, and it shows in Blair Witch. He’s had the chance to learn what he feels works, and what doesn’t. And I think he did an amazing job with the medium. Think about it, they didn’t have to make this sequel a found footage movie. But they did, and I think they pulled it off amazingly. Some people don’t regard found footage as a sub-genre of horror. Whether that means they think it’s “an easy cop out” or that it’s just not a viable genre at all, there are a legion of horror junkies that do not dig found footage. And I say, more for us, then. Just like any other genre, it can be done badly. On the flip side, it can be done very well. These kinds of movies do tend to lack in the story department more often than not. In a conventional way. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes the idea of piecing story elements together when they’re not exactly handed to you, then you probably love movies like this (like I do)! This one’s just for Tomas: Found Footage is the Dark Souls of horror sub-genres.

Another band-aid, or elephant in the room, whichever metaphor you want to go with: revealing The Witch. This is one of those Catch 22 scenarios I mentioned in my non-spoiler defense of the movie. Half the people are pissed off that they showed the witch. “That’s not the point! The spirit of the movie is that it’s left unknown or to the imagination!” Or the left-field-internet-is-for-the-truly-fucked-up, “There is no witch! It’s about two boys luring a girl out into the woods to murder her!” Now, imagine if they hadn’t shown what they did. “What?! I waited 17 years and they STILL didn’t show the damn witch?! What?!” You can’t please everyone all the time. Am I mad they showed “the witch”? No. Do I think it kinda (totally) looks all too similar to at least two other monsters in popular found footage flicks ([REC] and Grave Encounters)? Yes. Let’s say for a second that it’s not the witch that we’re shown, though. Does that make it better that there’s the possibility of other super bizarre creatures lurking around the woods? No? It still breaks the spell of “not knowing” and the possibility that maybe there’s just a natural gas leak in the woods that drives everyone Harry Caray? Whatever. Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. I didn’t enjoy it any less.

This is also one that I think bears repeating. As in, I need to see this movie again. Which also speaks to how much I must’ve enjoyed it if I immediately wanted to watch it again. And not even like, “Man, I need to see that again just to make some sense of this mess.” But because I’m genuinely curious about little nods, Easter eggs, or clues that I may have missed previously. Something I read in another review that piqued my interest even more in subsequent views was that the first time they send the drone up, you can still see the road, but once they send it up the second time, the road has vanished (supposedly this is also one of the very few instances where they used CGI in the movie at all to simply remove the road). That attention to detail to me has merit all on its own. And I really do believe that this comes to us as a labor of love, and that Adam and Simon really wanted to give us the best they could/were allowed to. They loved the original just as much as any other die hard horror fan, and they wanted to pack as much as they could into this movie. Some may say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and maybe that’s what doomed this movie in others’ eyes. But I applaud their effort, and thank them for it. This is the sequel we should have gotten instead of Book of Shadows. Seriously, I feel like people are trolling hard when they say they actually like that one. But, then, here I am, defending this one. Sometimes I forget that it’s all subjective, and opinions will differ inexplicably sometimes. Yes, there are quantifiable traits that can be graded, but if we’re going that route, I don’t see how anyone can possibly attack Blair Witch’s technical execution. Seriously. The idea of trying to plan and execute a found footage movie like this gives me stress-mares (that’s stress nightmares, not really anxious female horses).

Okay, speaking of horses, I need to reign this one in. It’s getting out of hand. I could seriously ramble on about this one for a while. There were so many things I liked about it, too! Rapid fire list of likes and dislikes:

 

Likes:

  1. Utilizing new technology flawlessly
  2. The idea of everyone experiencing time differently
  3. The mind-fuck at the end where we see Lisa in the mirror
  4. The idea that not all of the lore is truth, and introducing new lore/rules that we don’t actually know to be true or not either
  5. Showing more of the house
  6. Breathing new life into the Blair Witch mythology, and getting me amped up about it all over again

 

Dislikes:

  1. Blatantly following the “black dude dies first” cliche
  2. Killing off two characters in completely underwhelming ways (death by tree x2 = BS)
  3. The very very end and how Lisa meets her demise

 

For those of you who are not just scrollin’; thank you, first of all. Secondly, THE ENDING. So, I didn’t hate it. But the introduction of the Medusa lore was a little odd, and I wonder if it’s not part of the bullshit. Like, you think that those are the rules, but really, that doesn’t work. Horror movie fodder characters are infamous for doing the exact opposite of what you should do, but Lisa witnessing what happens and then almost instantly falling for the same trick was a little too much. Here’s another re-imagining for ya:

We see James fall for the fabled “Hyena-calling-children-into-the-tall-grass-by-mimicking-the-voices-of-their-loved-ones” shtick, and then we have Lisa petrified in the corner, refusing to move. Crying, trembling, and reaching her breaking point, she cries out seemingly to no one, “No! You’re not James! Stop!” in some order/fashion, implying that the witch is attempting the same trick on her. Cut to James’ dropped camera in the middle of the floor, (conveniently) pointed at Lisa’s back. We see her standing in the corner losing her mind, unable to act. Let the credits start to roll as Lisa’s still there, crying, screaming, reacting to the taunts from the witch that we can’t hear. OR, Lisa’s in the corner, unable and unwilling to move, and as she has her eyes shut tight we see greasy, stringy, black hair slowly lower from above in front of her face. Cut to James’ dropped camera that only has a view of Lisa’s feet, we hear her scream, but it’s cut short as she’s pulled upward and disappears. Maybe put a blood-curdling sound of disembowelment followed by an over-the-top amount of gore falling to the floor. Or, just have her disappear from view, and roll the credits over the footage of James’ dropped camera as it picks up sounds of chewing/chomping (think the sound of dogs chewing on bones) from the corner of the ceiling above where Lisa stood moments ago that’s just out of frame/too dark to see fully.

I could go on. But I won’t. If you made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my Samara-inhabited-well of a heart. I will be purchasing this movie day one and watching it repeatedly. Probably have a Blair Witch movie/party night. Leaving out Book of Shadows, of fucking course. (Disclaimer: It’s been so long since I saw Book of Shadows that I don’t really remember a lot of it, just that I thought it felt like a Road Rules MTV cash-in tag-on to the (then hopeful) franchise. Maybe there were some cool ideas in there? Maybe I should revisit all iterations of the Blair Witch.)

BONUS ROUND/IDEAS

Lane makes a comment to Peter after he says he got out of the woods unscathed after being a part of Heather’s search party. He says something along the lines of, “How do you know you got out? You’re here now, aren’t you?” That sent shivers up and down my gawd dayum soul. The idea that once you enter those woods you are potentially marked for life, and connected in some way to the point where you can unwittingly be influenced to return seemingly of your own volition, completely unaware of any threat or risk. Goosebumps, people. Goosebumps.

I don’t think that creature was the witch. Maybe another poor soul that got trapped at some point and was tortured the same way Elly Kedward (supposedly the human identity of the Blair Witch) was, prolonging their existence (time manipulation again), and twisting them into these abhorrent, and dutiful minions. Ready to do her bidding. Like Rustin Parr (owner of “the house” that supposedly burned down in the 1940’s, but shows up at the end of the original film, and this one), or Lane.

What if Lane wasn’t under the Witch’s control? What if that scrappy stoner had just survived that long, and was trying to escape or find a way to save himself and the others? This is a stretch, but it did cross my mind.

Before James enters the house, was that Heather that we saw in the window? Did I hear “MIKE!”? Was this another illusion/projection from the Witch? Was this more time-fuckery? Is the creature Heather? Were those bones in the basement those of Heather, Mike, and Josh? Is this what heroin feels like?!

Were the sounds in the woods much more prominent and amped up to suggest that the Witch was actually physically rearranging the forest? Does this explain why everyone gets lost in these woods?

Was the light in the attic (shout out to Shel Silverstein) at the end alien in nature? Was the Witch itself? Was it the sun, showing us how the Witch could manipulate time?

What rules are real, what rules are bullshit? I don’t think the creature’s the witch, and therefore the whole “don’t look, it’ll kill you” is complete bullshit. Plus, unless Lisa saw the creature through her camera specifically outside, she should have died right then and there. I really like the idea of characters thinking they know or have discovered some set of rules, only to have them turn out to be false.

I’d love for more people to explore this world’s mythology. I don’t know that another Found Footage film would be the way to go, though. Even though it is Blair Witch in its very nature, it may get too gimmicky (i.e. Paranormal Activity). I don’t have any viable or discernible suggestions, but I know that I crave more of this movie.

What did you guys think about Blair Witch? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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