‘Blair Witch’ Review

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Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, and Valorie Curry

Synopsis: After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his sister’s experiences in the demonic woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

It might be a little hard to believe that The Blair Witch Project came out more than 15 years ago, but now we have a proper sequel – get out of here Books of Shadows – to the film that, at the time, was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Say what you will, despite how you feel about the film in general, The Blair Witch Project made a lot of waves the way it was presented, and it changed the way horror films would come to be in the future. Now, all these years later, we have a proper sequel that was kept hidden from us until Comic Con when it was revealed that The Woods was really Blair Witch. So, have Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the men responsible for great films like You’re Next and The Guest, given us a proper sequel to a film that changed the landscape at the time so much? Let’s take a walk through very familiar woods and find out.

Blair Witch follows James (McCune), the younger brother of Heather Donahue, one of the leads from The Blair Witch Project, who is the focus of a documentary by his friend Lisa (Hernandez). The reason for the documentary is because James thinks he sees his sister in a mysterious video that was sent to him that seemingly shows her running through the house at the end of the first film. James convinces Lisa and their friends Peter (Scott) and Ashley (Reid) to go with them to search for his sister, or at least find out what really happened. Along the way, they meet up with the people that sent him the video, Lane (Robinson) and Talia (Curry), who tag along to find the legendary Blair Witch.

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The buzz for Blair Witch was pretty big from the people that got to see it early, so it had a lot to live up to. Of course, the horror film community is very hard to please, but I’m sure some of them will agree that this year big studio horror films have been better than expected, and way better than years past. So there was a chance, whether it be a slim one, that Blair Witch would continue the trend, and for most of the film it does. However, Blair Witch does have pitfalls that fans of the original film, and in general, may cause to lose interest and question this sequel, and they are justified.

If you didn’t realize that Blair Witch was a sequel to Project you could make the argument that this film feels like a reboot/updated version since the film used better technology than the first film. Of course, the first film was made for cheap and used cameras to make it look even cheaper. Blair Witch uses a drone, an updated camera, a webcam, and head cameras, so the PUT THE CAMERA DOWN AND RUN IDOITS mantra goes out the window and leads to some interesting shots and lets the actors – and mayhem – cut loose a little more. That being said, the updated-ness both hurts and gives the film a sense that this is a sequel. It helps in the sense that if you wanted to see how Project looked with good quality visuals, here it is, also again, it lets the actors and mayhem take a different approach and cut a little more loose. For example, when characters go off on their own, you don’t know what’s going to happen – in fact anything can happen, which is how the updated-ness works.

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However, it hurts in the sense that it takes away some of the charm, albeit terrifying charm, of the original, because the original film felt like we were watching something we weren’t suppose to be watching. This is why it worked and has become a touchstone in not just the horror genre, but the found footage genre. Ultimately, that is what hurts Blair Witch because it looks more polished.

Speaking of the updated-ness (I’ll stop using that word), the film does follow some of the same beat-for-beat moments of the first film. The group gets lost, they argue, they hear weird noises, and ultimately start disappearing. Of course, different things happen along the way – for the better – and some of the original myth is expanded in a respectful way to the first film that could please fans and helps build the tension more as the film progress. Does it help if you watch the first film? Probably, but the film does a good job of summing up facts from the first film for you. The cast of mostly unknowns also do well, but considering by the end they’re running around screaming, all of that kind of goes out the window.

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All in all, Blair Witch does have its moments that make it a worthwhile and deserving sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It does have pitfalls and makes decisions that it probably shouldn’t have made that hurts its overall execution, and what made the first film so successful and memorable. Blair Witch does have some descent scares, but it’s the decisions it makes that kills a lot of what could have been a better film.

Blair Witch

3 out of 5

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‘The Guest’ Review

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Dir: Adam Wingard

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Tabatha Shaun, Joel David Moore, and Lance Reddick

Synopsis: A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

The team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett is one that I’m starting to fully invest in. They caught eyes of general audiences with You’re Next and segments in V/H/S and its sequel. But they also made a highly enjoyable survivor thriller A Horrible Way to Die but with this new movie The Guest, Wingard who serves as the director and Barrett as the writer, they bring a great homage to the old movies of James Carpenter and 70s and 80s horror/thriller films.

 

The movie starts off with Laura Peterson (Kelley) who is grieving over the death of her son Caleb when a mysterious charming man shows up calming to be an old army friend named David (Stevens). He quickly wins over the family that includes the bullied son Luke (Meyer), rebellious daughter Anna (Monroe), and frustrated husband Spencer (Orser). Soon though, we start to realize that David is not who he says he is and terrible things start to happen.

 

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Almost like You’re Next, The Guest shares the same vibe as a movie from the 70s and 80s. It’s got action, dread, mystery, some dark comedy and catchy synthesizer music. Wingard knows exactly what he’s doing and finds the balance of all the tones running through the movie and manages to make every one of those moments enjoyable and fun to watch. It does have a rough part right before the final act but the nice thing is that even the characters are aware of it and even rolls their own eyes. In any other movie it would seem too self aware and cheesy and it is here, but considering the rest of the movie, it’s actually welcomed.

 

But The Guest isn’t just defined by its tone or feel, but by the performance of Dan Stevens. Stevens is wildly known for his performance in Downton Abbey, but never seeing the show, I can assume that this is nothing compared to what he’s done there. Stevens does a fantastic job of balancing David’s personalities through the movie. He has his charm about him and calls people “sir” and “ma’am” but the time it takes for him to get you to like him, David can switch to a menacing demeanor, which was truly frightening in some occasions. The nice thing is that he never really overdoes it and makes the movie hard to watch, in the sense that you never know what’s going to happen when David enters a room.

 

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The hard part is deciding what you think of David. He acts as a defender to the Peterson family – deals with some bullies for Luke – but since his actions are so brutal, it makes you think if the Petersons made the right choice in bringing in David or not. But, again, Stevens’ performance is so well done that you end up rooting for him, even though his actions are very exciting but brutal.

 

The other performances are a little hard to judge since we spend a lot of time with Stevens, and even when he’s not on screen the movie kind of slows down. Lance Reddick shows up as a man from David’s past and does what he can with the role but really goes nowhere expect to tell Anna about David. Brendan Meyer as Luke Peterson sees David as a friend and possibly surrogate brother as David teaches Luke to stand up for himself. Meyer does okay as the younger brother who finally finds someone he can talk to and a friend.

 

Finally there is Maika Monroe as Anna. The role really could have gone the way of Anna being a bit bitchy, but instead Anna is a bit standoffish, which is understandable once you understand the dynamic of the family. As the movie progress she suspects that David isn’t really who he says he is and rapidly sees David is a different light. Monroe is a relativity newcomer and manages to hold her own against Stevens. One particular scene stands out to me around the halfway point when Anna confronts David about who he is.

 

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All in all, The Guest has a great mixture of tones and pays a nice homage to other films from the past. With a great score and performance by Dan Stevens, The Guest is a fun, scary, and enjoyable ride from start to finish.

 

 

The Guest

4.5 out of 5