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Inside Blair Witch: The Top-Secret, Thrilling Sequel to The Blair Witch Project

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Lionsgate screened Adam Wingards latest film under the title The Woods at Comic-Con, surprisingand thrillinga crowd of horror superfans. “>

In the midst of the most overstuffed pop culture event of the year, with most of Hollywood keeping their wares away from Hall H, one studio pulled off a coup at Comic-Con with two simple words:Blair Witch.

Friday at Comic-Con, Lionsgate didnt just announce to the world that they had a thirdBlair Witchfilm in the worksthey screened theentirefinished movie for a theater full of unsuspecting fans who thought they were about to see the new horror flickThe Woods. Surprise!

The Woods, filmed entirely in secret last summer, is the first sequel to horror megahitThe Blair Witch Projectsince 2000s much-maligned Razzie-winnerBlair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Directed by Adam Wingard from a script by hisYoure NextandThe Guestcollaborator Simon Barrett,Blair Witch(its official title) picks up after the events of both previous films right where the franchise began: in the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland, where three wannabe filmmakers disappeared almost two decades ago.

 

Its not a reboot or a prequel or an alternate timeline re-quel, but an old-fashioned straight-up sequel that continues the frights first established inDaniel MyrickandEduardo Snchezs 1999 filmwhile expanding theBlair Witch-verse in wildly inventive and unexpected ways.

Other things have changed in the interim between that first DV cam-toting generation of witch hunters and their YouTube-reared successors. The newBlair Witchleads, four vaguely millennial young adults, are a little too camera-pretty to pretend that this, like the firstBlair Witch,could possibly be real. (Even Book of Shadows, rushed into release just a year after the first movie, danced a metafictional line, its characters named for the actors who played them.)

But this time nobodys pretending at faux-verit. Thats a good thing, because it opens the door for Wingard and Barrett to tweak and toy with the boundaries of theBlair Witchsandbox to throw every horror tool in their arsenal at the screen while keeping it stripped down to its basic elements: unsuspecting characters, a few cameras, the creepy twig dolls that have haunted a generation raised on the first Blair Witch, and the vast, unforgiving woods.

It all starts optimistically enough: Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and James (James Allen McClure) head out for a camping adventure in the Black Hills Forest, filming the weekend for Lisas documentary class. Theyre all there to support James, whos spent his entire life searching for the older sister who disappeared with her camera crew while chasing the legend of the Blair Witch into these very woods.

Tensions mount from the start as Barretts script peppers vital character details and dynamics in with deceptively economical precision. The groups dynamic becomes more complicated by the addition of a local couple who agree to lead the gang into the forest on the trail of his long-lost sister.

Wingard never forgets which pieces are in play in his increasingly disorienting nightmare and leans into the tried and true signposts of found footage: loud noises, jump-scares, and a variety of recording sourcesthat underscore the evil inevitability of impending doom. Despite walking into the woods equipped with every high-tech 21stcentury gadget you can imaginewalkies, cell phones, webcams, earpiece cams, and a dronethese characters have no idea how ill-prepared they are to survive these woods and their own millennial hubris.

 

No matter what happens they all keep filming because no one suspects they wont make it out alive until its too late. Even then, Blair Witch takes surprising turns. Its not just the wide-open spaces thatll get you.From deep within the endless forest, Blair Witch delivers the kind of memorably claustrophobic new scares that bring the genre back to its grab-the-armchairs roller coaster roots.

The idea that a secret sequel could bring a long-stale franchise like this back to life is, frankly, the most surprising thing to happen to horror in ages. Its been 17 years sinceThe Blair Witch Projectcame out of nowhere to put found footage horror on the map and made audiences and critics alike wonder if the legends of witchy terrors outside of Burkittsville, Maryland, were true.

Blair Witch diehards should rejoice, not the least because this new offering pays meticulous homage to the originalparticularly through painstakingly recreated production design. Its metaphysical additions to the mythology give the franchise its greatest gift: a future. Just when found footage and the Blair Witch saga seemed like relics from horror cinemas past, it seems there might actually be new reason to return to the woods.

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