by Russ Marshalek of a place both wonderful and strange
Imagine me clapping my hands together and shouting “SHOWTIME!” like those kids on the train, because that’s basically how I was Friday night going into seeing Blair Witch. As palpable as my excitement was, I couldn’t hold a candle to the gaggle of 20-somethings flocking into the theater adjacent to Blair Witch, which was showing Bridget Jones’ Baby. I didn’t know Bridget Jones had a baby. Did she? Is it Carrie from Sex In The City? Because that would be awesome and also insert a time travel storyline into Bridget Jones and I fucking love time travel storylines.
Speaking of time, and the fallacy of it in Blair Witch, and other things: there will be spoilers in this. I had a very vital facet of this movie ruined for me by a friend’s casual FB post, and I wish I hadn’t seen it. If you’re going to see this movie and haven’t yet, don’t read this. Don’t read anything. Go to a movie theater right now, because in another day or so I can’t help you avoid this shit. You’re on the internet.
That said, this isn’t going to be so much of a blow-by-blow review as it is a thinkpiece from someone who’s thought way too long and hard about The Blair Witch Project as a universe over the last 15 years.
Ok, so, let me get this out of the way first: Blair Witch is the best possible sequel to The Blair Witch Project anyone could hope for, for better or worse. The plot, in a nutshell, is: James Donahue, brother of Heather Donahue from the original film, catches a YouTube clip filmed from the supposedly-destroyed Blair Witch/Rustin Parr house that ostensibly shows a quick clip of his long-missing sister. As part of a friend’s student film, James and way too many other characters track down the Blair Witch fan-kids who “found” the footage of his sister and head off into the woods to, essentially, repeat exactly what happened to the trio in The Blair Witch Project only on a vastly escalated time line.
At the heart of The Blair Witch Project there was a genuine investment in the characters, particularly Heather, as she struggled to keep herself and her team together while her literal world was torn asunder around her. Myth-building was secondary, and scattered with such a knowingly light hand that I’ve literally had to explain to people for the last 15 years what the ending of the movie meant, because it force-fed viewers absolutely nothing. Blair Witch invests almost nothing in the characters, and despite supposedly being long-time friends their interactions and relationships end up consisting almost solely of screaming each others names into a dense, inky blackness that’s actually the fullest character in the film. I’m not saying I don’t believe James wanted to find his sister, but the pretext of going into the woods could literally have just been “hey let’s go camping where people went missing for LOLs” and I’d have bought in just as much.
But the mythology, oh, god, the mythology: THANK YOU, Blair Witch, for rewarding nerds like me for our 15 years of speculation that there was more to meets the eye in the original film. For a movie way too many people called “boring”, the universe that was crafted is rich as fuck. We found out what those now-iconic tree symbols mean (to the point where at one point they’re faked as a spook-out, and when they come back for real they’re the size of entire trees, because BLAIR WITCH IS DONE FUCKING AROUND), we learn that time essentially doesn’t exist in those woods (leading my wife to lean in and say to me “the house is like Tanis” www.tanispodcast.com, which is also a killer nod to Baba Yaga), there’s what I think is a metaphor/connection to the phrase “an old woman whose feet never touch the ground” that I’m still working to understand via some foot-related body horror (if you wanna suss this out with me IRL, please, let’s do, because I have a crackpot theory that’s too half-baked to say publicly), and the ending is, again, open to much speculation.
HOWEVER, ABOUT THAT ENDING:
You see the fucking witch. This is a crime as unforgivable as saying “nothing happens”. The original movie won because the terror was entirely unseen, leaving your mind to create whatever terrifying things lurk in your own personal darkness. Blair Witch, instead, gives us a shoutout to Grave Encounters. It’s bullshit and I hate it and don’t like it at all.
The rest of the film’s last 20 minutes, though, is goddamn perfection. An extended revision of the original movie’s terrifying, breathless run through the house, this time fleshed out like a haunted attraction I’d die to go to (see what I did there?). It’s goddamn terrifying, and some of the best spoopy film-making I’ve seen in a long time, and worth every penny of the ticket price.
It left me with some questions, though: if Heather is trapped in the house because time ceases to exist in those woods, where are Mike and Josh? Is the Donahue family cursed/linked to the Blair Witch in some way because it sure as fuck seems like it…maybe? What, exactly, does the Blair Witch want (and don’t just say “revenge”)?
Listen: I want a third Blair Witch movie. I want it to be final. And I want it to go like this:
Person goes into the woods knowing full well about the legend of the Blair Witch because AT THIS FUCKING POINT HOW CAN YOU NOT COME THE FUCK ON, and just says “FUCK IT IF I DIE, I AM GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS”, and that’s where we start. Because I want my questions answered, but even I can’t suspend disbelief enough to believe Heather’s brother’s cousin or whatever is about to toddle off into those fucking woods like they’re coming back tomorrow.
So: Blair Witch. It’s very good. It’s not perfect. But after 15 years of wondering if anything meant something, that’s goddamn good enough for me.
Questions: Donahue family?