Hollywood loves rebooting a franchise. Why make something original when the title alone can do most of your marketing for free? It’s why, when Blair Witch premiered as The Woods at Comic Con earlier this year, the audience had a profoundly different theater-going experience. I can imagine how jaw-droppingly amazing that was to go into an unknown horror movie, then turn to your friends a few minutes in saying, “Holy shit, is this a Blair Witch Project sequel?”
Now, as a lowly movie theater patron, I saw the new Blair Witch as the sequel it is. And, as much has been said about how Blair Witch measures up to its predecessor in style and scares, I’m here to talk about plot.
The Blair Witch Project, like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is effective in its vagueness. We don’t know much about the mythology, but what we see makes us yearn for more. Creatively, a sequel (leaving out Book of Shadows, here, probably for the best) could expand on that mythology in so many ways, and Blair Witch went big.
Spoilers! Blair Witch nostalgically sends a group of young filmmakers into the woods in search of the original’s main character, Heather. Loud noises and weird stuff happens, people disappear, and it’s a fun little rehash of the original for a while.
Then, after just one night, banished group members Lane and Talia return, claiming to have been gone for days. The sun stops coming up. The infamous cabin appears, and we’re treated to the twist that mysterious footage found before the events of the movie is actually being filmed now. James thought he saw his sister Heather in that mysterious footage—nope! It was actually from his future trip, and that girl is main character Lisa.
Hold up—if that sounds like the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you aren’t mistaken. Characters experiencing time differently? An endless “loop” implied by the found footage? Did Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett introduce time travel to the Blair Witch universe?
The thing is, it works. It’s not the first horror franchise to do it, either. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones dealt with inter-dimensional plot twists as well, brought a new story full-circle to the original and, if you ask me, revitalized the series while it was at it.
Blair Witch’s climactic moments are almost too similar, but the movie comes at a time where alternate dimensions are reaching the mainstream through cultural hits like Stranger Things. As far as the franchise itself is concerned, it opens even more dimensional doors for interpretation. It causes us to question the film’s mythology and even its genre. Supernatural horror can mean a lot of things.
For example, the “Blair Witch” could be a ghost or curse, sure, but could she be an alien? That blinding light pervading the cabin toward the end is reminiscent of Spielberg in a few ways, and the way the witch speaks to characters is a form of telepathy. Hell, the witch could be Heather tumbling through time periods for eternity.
The missing characters never really show up again—were they catapulted back to 1994, doomed to tie stick-voodoo dolls and shake tents forever? Are the woods are like the Lost island, alive and shifting? As much as the theories may damage repeated viewings of the original, the implications could go on forever and never be too much of a stretch.
In a way, I went into Blair Witch just like the Comic Con crowd—thinking I knew what to expect but caught off guard nonetheless. Whether it makes a mark large enough to influence future horror reboots and sequels remains to be seen, but I personally admire the ambition of its creators. Reboots and sequels should be ambitious. They should challenge their predecessors, ask new questions, and pave new roads. In what often feels like a time of more sequels than original content, movies like these are refreshing.
Images: IMDb, screenweek.it, redcarpetcrash.com