I don’t know what to make of Blair Witch

filmpolice-blair-witch-2016

The most common criticism being leveled at Blair Witch this weekend is that it’s a lazy retread of the original, and that is completely baffling to me because I had the exact opposite problem with it. I legitimately do not understand how this movie fits in to the established Blair Witch mythology, and it does not at all feel like the natural continuation of what came before.

From here on out, expect major spoilers for Blair Witch.

Why does the Blair Witch behave completely differently in this film than in the original? Is this even the same witch? In The Blair Witch Project, our lead characters hear strange crackling and children’s laughter at night, their tent is surrounded by rocks and stick figures, and that’s about it. The sound design is brilliant, ambiguous, and subtle. For most of the movie, what’s out in the woods could be a witch, or it could just be some locals screwing around.

But in this sequel, the Blair Witch sounds like a combination of the Smoke Monster from Lost and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. What the hell happened? We’re constantly hearing crazy ass stomping sounds and growling to the point that for a brief time I seriously wondered if there was going to be a twist where the characters had traveled back in time to the prehistoric era.

And it’s not just the sound. Tents fly through the air, trees are constantly falling over, characters are forcefully dragged off camera, and there is not an ounce of subtly to anything that happens.

I’m not necessarily sure whether this is inherently a bad thing, and I understand the need to up the ante from the original. But my big problem is that I just don’t understand how we’re supposed to be experiencing the same witch in the same woods as The Blair Witch Project. Why is it that last time, the lead characters camped out for several nights with their most notable experience being some children laughing and messing with their tent, and in the 20 years since, the woods have turned into something a fucking crazy haunted house run by Sam Raimi?

Rarely did I feel like I was returning to somewhere I had been already. This felt like a completely different witch living in completely different woods. To me, that is a failure of the film, and it makes for one of the bizarre sequels I’ve ever seen. Rarely have I watched a movie that felt so disconnected from the previous installment while simultaneously making constant reference to it.

The time shifting elements, too, made this feel like a completely different universe as the one we saw in The Blair Witch Project. Obviously that was present in the original, too, with Heather and Mike coming upon a house that should have burnt down years ago. And it’s implied that this might be the real reason they can’t find their way back. I love the idea of Blair Witch confirming that idea and taking it even further.

But it’s taken very far in Blair Witch with the concept of it the sun never coming up on literally the group’s second night there. Again, this is a pretty cool idea on its own, but how does this fit into the Blair Witch Project universeWhy was nothing like this experienced by the characters in the original? For Heather, Mike and Josh, the time shifting amounted to the woods very subtly sending them back in time or perhaps to a pocket dimension, but now, we’re seeing nutty UFO-style lights as the woods are sent through time like in Season 5 of Lost? Does the Blair Witch just mess around with every individual who comes into the woods differently? Why are the rules so drastically different now than they were then?

Then there’s the Rustin Parr story. The image of Mike standing in the corner at the end of The Blair Witch Project makes for one of the spookiest horror endings of all time. It’s obviously quite ambiguous, but we know it ties back into the tale of Rustin Parr making his victims face the corner while he did his killings. It seems that Mike is under the influence of the Blair Witch rather than just being incredibly scared and staring at the wall, because otherwise he surely would have responded to Heather’s screams and not remained perfectly silent.

Unless I’m missing something, that seems to have been retconned in Blair Witch, where the whole “staring into the wall” thing is actually because looking directly at the witch automatically kills you or some shit. Huh?

If that’s true, why is it that characters look directly at the Blair Witch in this very movie without suffering any consequences, like when Lisa sees it outside the house literally a few minutes before the finale?

And are we actually meant to buy this as an explanation for Mike’s behavior in the original? That he just turned away from the witch because looking at it would kill him? He wasn’t possessed? That couldn’t really be what they’re going for, right? Because that makes no god damn sense. Why wouldn’t he respond to Heather in any form even while having his back turned?

On its own, the idea that you can survive against the Blair Witch by not looking at her, and she mimics the voice your loved one to get you to turn around, is a cool idea. But like a lot of the cool ideas in the movie, it is just so at odds with everything established in the original. That would be fine if this was a reboot. But here we have movie that feels like a reboot in some ways but that is in actuality a direct sequel.

We go from a witch making noises in the distance to an over-the-top monster throwing people through the air and stomping like Godzilla. We go from very subtle and debatable time shifting to clear-as-day time shifting that operates under completely different rules. And we’re given an explanation for people facing the corner that does not match up whatsoever with what we saw before, nor does it really match up with what we see in this movie.

I liked the experience of watching Blair Witch overall, but as a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, I’m not sure that it works.

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