Review: Adam Wingard's 'Blair Witch' Sequel Is A Scary Surprise [Comic-Con]

This was the perfect way to introduce Blair Witch to the world. The series is rooted in clever marketing, as the original film was positioned as real found footage of real film students who disappeared. The sequel twisted the concept to focus on the Blair Witch hype more than the legend itself. Now they've made the third film, 16 years later, a true surprise. Lionsgate committed to early marketing of the film as The Woods so that the first audience to see it could learn it was actually Blair Witch. No one else will get quite that experience, as it would be impossible to keep the secret once it began screening, but this way all the fans could be in on the reveal, even if they only followed it online. 

What is a Blair Witch movie in 2016, post-Blumhouse/Paranormal Activity? It's now a refined form of cinema, and indeed director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, honed their skills making shorts for the V/H/S collections. Thanks also to advances in camera technology and selfie culture, there are many more cameras involved than the three angles Heather, Josh and Mike offered. There's plenty of coverage, and more fun to be had with body cameras.

James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of Heather Donahue's character from the first film. The emergence of some new tapes from the Burkittsville, MD forest leads him back to the woods looking for answers to his sister's disappearance 20 years earlier. (This is "found footage" from 2014. The original footage was said to be from 1994.) James has of course analyzed The Blair Witch Project tape in detail.

Since found footage has evolved since The Blair Witch Project, so has the return to the Burkitsville woods. Originally there were three film students trying to make a documentary. Here, there's one film student. James' girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is filming a project for her documentary class, but really she just wants to support her boyfriend and help him find closure. Their friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) come with them for support.

But it's not just film students who film things in 2016. James and Lisa's gang meet up with a pair of Blair Witch vloggers (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), who have a different agenda for filming a trip into the Burkittsville woods. Their camera, plus Lisa's camera and everyone wearing cameras, allow Wingard to craft a more elaborate world of the cursed Burkittsville woods. When pixelated glitches occur between scenes, it seems more like a loving throwback to found footage artifacts than an actual glitch, because these filmmakers are so skilled they would only glitch on purpose. It's also a simple scene transition.

This is also a world where the characters have not only seen The Blair Witch Project, which presumably exists as a real document in their world, but where characters have enough technology and common sense to prepare. They have GPS, they don't want to go off looking for their straggler in the middle of the night, they're skeptical about all the legends they've heard. For these characters to feel peril, the film has to really strip away all their safety nets and it does so organically so that new threats can develop in the world of Blair Witch.

Blair Witch is a love letter to the film that began the found footage horror craze. Even though it would take Paranormal Activity and proliferation of consumer cameras to cause a glut of found footage horror movies, The Blair Witch Project is the one that started it all. Blair Witch honors its tradition and uses all the tricks filmmakers have learned in the past 17 years to make us scared of the woods again.