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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 09.19.16] horror

If Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett set out to turn Blair Witch into a terrifying theme park ride, they succeeded. In a good way.

With assaulting sound design, a disorienting sense of space and time, and a final 20 minutes, so grueling and genuinely scary, Blair Witch thoroughly replicates a harrowing real-life haunted house experience.

Look, I'll just cut to the chase. The film's last act is why you should see this film. It's a bravura of horror filmmaking, and the best example of what found footage can do when it's firing on all cylinders. Not since REC have I experienced the same visceral thrill of being plunged into such a harrowing situation. It's easily the most assured work Wingard has accomplished yet and, regardless of the weekend returns on Blair Witch, it should cement him as a major and versatile genre talent in the industry.

A common complaint I've read about the new film is that it slavishly recreates the first movie. This is not true. While the film's plot sees new characters venturing into the same woods as a necessity, their experience is different and heightened in almost every regard. And while, yes, the same mythology is definitely present, there are a ton of shocking surprises and scares along the way. And Blair Witch manages to leave you feeling like more of the mythology has been explored without any of it being overly explained, maintaining the ambiguity that made the original so scary.

The negative critical response to Blair Witch is somewhat perplexing and I think it has more to do with the conception that found footage is a low form art, as opposed to supposed prestige horror like the recent The Conjuring 2. If you really think about it, found footage is not mainstream and has never really appealed to mainstream audiences. The only breakouts have been the original Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity series.

The worst thing you could say about Blair Witch is that, like a roller coaster, the rush of it is fleeting, but in the moment it's an completely immersive thrill ride.

Recommended Release: The Blair Witch Project

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