Blair Witch and Found Footage Films

Blair Witch Project promo poster

With the horror genre being flooded with “found-footage” films for the past nine years, it would be a smart move to revisit the epitome of the horror sub-genre in late 1990s. The Blair Witch Project had a budget of $60,000 and grossed worldwide a total of $248 million.
Its box office results makes it one of the most successful independent films of all time. The original was released in 1999 and was one the first successful attempts at a found footage horror movie. Its sequel, Blair Witch, was released in 2016 for new audiences to experience the horror of the Blair Witch. When the sequel was first announced it went by a different name; The Woods. No indication was given that this film was going to be a sequel to The Blair Witch Project until later. Many, very much like myself, were enthralled by the idea of a sequel to one of the scariest films of the 90s.
The 1999’s The Blair Witch Project success was very much based on what it didn’t give the audience. The film built was scary because it built tension and never relieved it. Its opening footage successfully gives you the exposition needed to vaguely put together the horrors of the fake legendary Blair Witch. Much of the film focuses only on the characters, never on the Blair Witch itself, until she starts to taunt them in the night. We only experience the Blair Witch through the experiences of our main characters, placing the audience into a sort of first person perspective of all the terror. The movie didn’t find itself reliant on jump scares, loud noises, or eerie music. Its horror came from the unknown.
The sequel follows James, the brother of the still missing Heather from the first film, with hopes to find out what happened to his sister in those woods in 1994. She’s been missing for 20 years, and he stumbles upon a YouTube video of her in the house from the first movie, which motivates him to follow her tracks into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to make his own documentary. James and his group of disposable friends learn that the curse of the Blair Witch is real as their trip slowly spirals into the same nightmare his sister endured.
Directors Adam Wingard and Simon Barret obviously didn’t understand what made the original so scary. Throughout the newer film we’re provided with a slew of jump scares. The overuse of jump scares in today’s cinema has made an illusion of a scary film. Yet, 2016’s Blair Witch uses one of cheapest attempts to scare your audience, false jump scares. This type of jump scares are typically the scene in a film where a friend is attempting to scare the main character or the cat playing around tin trash cans. Wingard uses these types of false jump scares so much to the point that all tension is relieved by the time of its climax. They become so much that they start to become almost laughable by the end of the film.
The original Blair Witch Project didn’t play up on the gore or imaginative ways to murder someone. Maybe it would have if it had a bigger budget, but the constrictions of having a lower budget pushed the filmmakers to create an atmosphere that its sequel failed to recreate. Blair Witch being the first direct sequel to the original, it was expected that the filmmakers would constrict themselves to more inventive fashions to scare its audience.
Many trying to mimic the success of The Blair Witch Project in modern day horror have seemed to overlook the importance of atmosphere in horror films that create tension for the audience. Most opt for giving the audience nothing more than films with loud noise and jack-in-a-box concepts. 2016’s Blair Witch is an example that Hollywood has lost grasp of the concept of what makes an effective horror film. The stark contrast in the original The Blair Witch Project to its predecessor, is degradation of horror from its subtle nature to its more baroque format; overflowing with bigger death scenes, louder noises, and more blood that they begin to cheat the audience out of what they came for and just becomes hollow noise.  

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