Blair Witch is more clever than scary, which is at once the best and worst thing about it.
Reteaming veteran collaborators director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, the film is nominally a long-delayed sequel to the classic 1999 found footage horror. The Blair Witch Project was something of a game-changer when it arrived. At a point in time when movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show (not to mention eXistenz and The Thirteenth Floor) teased out the idea of characters trapped in unreal surroundings, The Blair Witch Project applied that aesthetic to a horror movie in the style of Cannibal Holocaust.
The Blair Witch Project kickstarted an entire genre of contemporary horror framed as documentary footage of horrible happenings; Cloverfield, [rec], Diary of the Dead, The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity. Such films appealed to studios because they were cheap to make, relying on no-name casts and minimal special effects as part of the premise. They also resonated with audiences, perhaps because they spoke to the postmodern anxieties at the cusp of the twenty-first century, perhaps because they mirrored the use of amateur footage in news and online.
Blair Witch marks a return to that premise, perhaps a fond farewell to a genre that has been in decline for the past few years. At their best, Wingard and Barrett push the premise of found footage horror to its limit. This is a film that wallows in its self-awareness and referential integrity, one that feels postmodern and cheeky, one that draws attention to its own status as a sequel by pointedly trapping its characters within a sequel. It is all very clever, and Blair Witch works best when it plays with these ideas. Unfortunately, its scares are nowhere near as clever.