What’s old is new again, although if we’re being honest it still looks old.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are something of a bright spot in the world of genre film-making as the duo has consistently infused their movies with personality and humor alongside the thrills. They make highly entertaining films, but the question became whether or not they could deliver something with a far more serious tone.
They’ve been attached to an American remake of the excellent, pitch black Korean thriller, I Saw the Devil, and I thought that would be their proving ground on the subject of tone, but while that movie sits in limbo the pair moved forward on something else all together. They went off on the sly and made a film called The Woods which was purported to be their foray into pure terror, but a funny thing happened on the way to the film’s premiere at Comic Con…
It’s actually a brand new Blair Witch movie.
The response from fans who caught the screening has been overwhelmingly positive with some going so far as to label it “one of the scariest movies ever made.” Hyperbolic pull quotes aside, the rest of us have only this trailer to go by, and for me at least I’m sitting here a bit torn.
The original Blair Witch is an effectively terrifying creation, but much of its power rests in its release in 1999. Marketing around the film was brilliant with hype building to suggest the possibility that this was real – we knew it wasn’t, but the web sites and smartly-crafted found footage experience made an exciting case in its favor. The cast members were as unknown as the filmmakers, and the film’s sudden appearance combined with some disturbing, frightening visuals got the job done and left millions screaming in terror.
In the seventeen years since there have been roughly 1.4 million found footage horror movies released, and the good to great ones can be counted on two malformed hands. It’s more than possible that Wingard/Barrett have produced a solid and scary piece of horror cinema here, and that’s certainly what I’m hoping for, but the trailer can’t help but have a ‘been there done that’ feel to it.
The aggressively shaky camera and scenes showing the characters’ reactions instead of whatever it is they’re reacting to are par for the found footage course, but the trailer has me wondering if the film itself includes those loud sound stingers to “enhance” the scares. My love for horror films and my trust in the filmmakers have me excited to see the movie, but I’m already more interested in what they do next.
All of that said, the thing that makes me happiest here is the fact that they hid the film’s real identity for so long. I’ve long bemoaned an online movie culture that demands as much news, trailers, and footage as possible – as early as possible – which ultimately leaves new releases with little to no mystery. Modern movie news means very little is left to be discovered in the theater, and I’m of the opinion that films and audiences are poorer for it.
There’s a tangible advantage to film production in avoiding the spotlight until the finished product is ready for viewing. 10 Cloverfield Lane showed that earlier this year, and with Blair Witch pulling the same trick I’m hopeful that more filmmakers will opt in to this pattern. Studios will obviously never sign on – their multi-million dollar marketing budgets need to be justified across several months – but smaller films, particularly thrillers, would benefit greatly from starting early with the art of surprise.
Blair Witch will have you facing the theater wall starting September 16th.