Thursday, January 12, 2017

Side by Side: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) vs. BLAIR WITCH (2016)

Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week we take a look at the horror staple THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the most recent installment in the franchise, BLAIR WITCH.  Enjoy!

These two films hold a lot of similarities, in fact it's almost uncanny. The plot for the first film surrounds a girl named Heather Donahue and her documentary crew. They have made a plan to camp out in the Black Hills Woods in Maryland, hoping to capture evidence of the local legend "the Blair Witch." The crew camps out in the woods, and a whole slue of terrifying things happen, proving the existence of the Blair Witch. The second film is about Heather's brother James, who believes that his sister is still out in these woods, so he and some friends go into the woods hoping to find her.

The first strength that both films actually possess is the ambiguity. Both of these projects consistently provide scares and they do it effectively. Less has always been more when it comes to horror films, and these two films capitalize on this ideal. Rarely showing any of the events that are considered scares or even the witch in the first film, this heightens the tensions and fear in the film. As opposed to actually giving us the "jump scares" like a lot of modern horror films are doing, they chose to keep all of the fear between the conversation of the characters. Each character has these disturbing dialogues with one another while horrifying events happen around them. And this actually creates a different kind of tension. With the first film, there was almost no script at all. The conversation was completely improvised and this made everything twice as scary. The performances felt legitimate and the horror felt real (which is what they were going for). However, in the new installment there is a completely written script. Despite the conversations not being improvised however, the performances from the actors still manage to feel real and horrifying.

The downside to both of the films is the found footage style. Found footage has been a relatively popular sub-genre of horror. With loads of different attempts to make the genre become popular and successful it still seems to be lacking something. The first problem that found footage seems to have is they almost embrace the "based on a true story" element way too much. The interactions with characters tend to feel so fake and that isn't the case with this film. I think one way that found footage could become successful is if we keep the conversation like a regular film and then just film it as a found footage film. But anyways, found footage always makes for a polarizing experience. The camera is always shaking frantically giving an unwanted amount of motion sickness (see Cloverfield). Then the amount of design that's done to make it feel like a film. A copious amount of sound design is done in order to make the production value of the film higher, but this isn't realistic. With the dinky cameras we usually see in found footage, we wouldn't be able to audibly witness these things. Found footage films need to crank back their amount of design to a minimal amount. And this is no different in both of these films. The sound design in both is just insanely over the top. We hear almost everything that happens around these characters, which is unrealistic. The Blair Witch films have always been trying to capture realism and they lose an element of that with too much design.

The Blair Witch Project revolutionized the horror genre. Passing off as a real film and delivering on these scares effectively, while Blair Witch is a great love letter to the first film, keeping a lot of the same ambiguous elements but not firing on the same caliber as the first. They fall a bit short with their over the top design, but still effectively scare the audience.

Joshua's Scores:

The Blair Witch Project: 7/10

Blair Witch: 6/10

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