TIFF 2016: ‘Blair Witch’ Is A Disturbing Departure From The Original

Who’s Behind It

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, the duo behind past Midnight Madness favourites A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, and The Guest.

Who’s In It

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

Who’ll Love It

Fans of The Blair Witch Project who wish that slow burner was a little more action-packed.

What’s It About

Curious to find out more about his sister who went missing in a Maryland forest two decades ago, Peter (Brandon Scott) enters the woods with some filmmaking friends and a variety of cameras. Prior to the trip, they discover a pair of paranormal experts, who join them on their journey and quickly prove to be somewhat unreliable. However, they do wisely advise the filmmakers to avoid the forest at night, a suggestion that’s ignored—with surreal and terrifying results.


Why You Should See It

It’s key to remember that, when 1999’s The Blair Witch Project was released, many believed they were watching a documentary. Nobody will make that mistake with Blair Witch, but the differences aren’t all problematic. For better and worse, Blair Witch discards the subtlety of the original, opting for a more conventional exercise in jump scares and spooky creatures. Whereas the original rigidly adhered to the limitations of its found footage framework, Blair Witch director Adam Wingard plays fast and loose with this conceit, introducing unmotivated cameras throughout. Without the fixed perspective or improvised acting of the original, this sequel proves to be less haunting or convincing. Also, by adding a duo that’s adversarial to the central filmmaking team, screenwriter Simon Barrett offers a rational explanation for the first wave of mysterious happenings. In light of this, the filmmakers have to go in a more extreme and paranormal direction when the real threat arrives. While some will undoubtedly miss the unnerving minimalism of the original, Blair Witch’s more noisy, muscular approach is effective in a different way. At the very least, you’ll find no shortage of disorienting shocks, particularly in the film’s chaotic second half.

What The Cast And Director Have To Say About It

During the Q&A at Sunday’s Midnight Madness screening, the cast and crew revealed Wingard’s unusual methods of generating fear on the set (his air horns became known as “scare horns”), genuinely terrifying a makeup person and pushing a camera operator to the brink of a panic attack. As for the director, he found that shooting in British Columbia presented some challenges unique to this production. “We’re filming in this beautiful location with all these scenic mountain views, but we can’t use those shots. We have to work so hard to make sure we get the most boring forest view.” But in spite of all the tough times and obstacles, actor James Allen McCune described the experience as “fun in the weirdest way,” concluding that it was “like summer camp but with better food.”

When You Can See It

Catch the last TIFF screening Thursday, September 15 (Scotiabank 2). Tickets available here. Opens wide this Friday, September 16.

Check out the trailer below,