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Back to the Black Hills Forest

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One thing can be said for the folks behind the new Blair Witch flick – they have jump scares down to an art.

It’s a well-made, and outright scary, journey back into the Black Hills Forest, this one.

Acting as a direct sequel to 1999’s runaway DIY hit The Blair Witch Project (no mention is made of that whole Book of Shadows thing (or maybe mention is made – I never did see all of that one, so any reference would be lost on me anyway)) – Blair Witch hits many of the same beats as the original, while expanding things enough to keep it interesting.

The film tells the story of a new group of filmmakers more-or-less led by a guy named James, who just so happens to be the brother of Heather Donahue, one of the filmmakers whose ill-fated journey into the Black Hills Forest was documented in the Blair Witch Project.

Well, all these years later, another bit of digital media as turned up in those woods. Upon viewing it – it gets uploaded to YouTube – James is convinced that a blurry figure who briefly appears in the spooky film is none other than his missing sister. James gathers some friends – including a film student named Lisa – and some fancy new filmmaking gear (including a drone and neat little earpiece cameras) and heads out to track her down.

Without spoiling anything (yet), I think it’s safe to say things get weird, and then weirder, and then outright nasty and violent.

It’s legitimately scary, and as a horror flick, I think it works well. It’s a shame, though, that they didn’t bother to bring anything to help keep their damn cameras steady (if you got motion sickness watching The Blair Witch Project, good luck with this one).

And as a Blair Witch flick? It’s an interesting world, and the original film didn’t offer much in terms of answers. Sure, something happened to those filmmakers. There was someone or something in the woods. But what? Or who? Shrug.

Well, good news, sorta – Blair Witch answers some of those questions (in one or two cases, perhaps too explicitly). Not all of them. And it poses a bunch of new ones that are just left hanging there, too, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mystery.

And there are a few things that hint at a larger story here. This is venturing into spoiler territory, though, so I’ll leave it at that.

Now, spoiler warning by way of a Continue Reading tag.

Really – SPOILERS below.

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How about that witch, huh? Creepy. It was good to see her/it on screen, even if it takes away a bit of the mystique.

With regards to the whole time-and-space warp thing – this is a good read:

Blair Witch 2016 Ending and Original Connections Explained (Screen Rant)

Something that’s worth noting, though, is what happens in the film isn’t without precedent in the Blair Witch universe.

Back in the post-Blair Witch Project halcyon days, Gathering of Developers released a trilogy of video games based on the film. Blair Witch Volume One: Rustin Parr was a spin-off of the company’s excellent Nocturne, sending Spookhouse investigator – and minor Nocturne character – Elspeth “Doc” Holliday to Burkittsville.

While in the basement of Parr’s home in the Black Hills Forest, Holliday witnesses the ending of the Blair Witch Project – one of the characters standing in the corner, and a camera-wielding Heather Donahue dashing down the stairs, only to be killed by . . . some sort of ghost thing.

The game is set in 1941, which is 53 years before the three filmmakers went into the Black Hills Forest (the Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, but the events take place in 1994).

The Blair Witch uses a similar idea, playing with time in the Black Hills Forest.

As noted earlier, the whole quest kicks off after James sees a video on YouTube. The video was on a card found in the Black Hills Forest. One frame contains an image of a woman whom James believes is his sister Heather.

The woman is actually Lisa, whose one of James’ filmmaker friends. The video he sees on YouTube hadn’t happened yet – it was captured by Lisa while they were in the Parr house, a sequence that takes place towards the end of Blair Witch.

That’s not the only example of weird Black Hills Forest time, of course, but seeing events before they happen was an idea Blair Witch Volume One played with, too.

Yes, how canonical those games are is debatable, but here we are. If you’d like to see the game sequence for yourself, here‘s a playthrough – just skip to about the 20-minute mark.

I can’t recall if the other games in the trilogy did anything similar. Leave a comment if so.

There’s some criticism being leveled at the film over how closely it hews to the Blair Witch Project. On the surface, that seems fair – both are found-footage flicks about a group of people who venture out into the Black Hills Forest in search of, really, the truth about the Blair Witch legend.

In the original film, it was about just that – the trio of filmmakers was making a documentary about the legend. In the sequel, sure, James is looking for his sister, but she’s a victim of the legend, or so it seems.

In both films, they run afoul of the aforementioned witch. Both films also involve getting lost in the woods (the sequel takes things a bit farther than just “getting lost”), and both end in the Parr house with people getting killed and standing in corners.

But perhaps there’s something else going on here. One of the characters even says it – this is a paraphrase, but Lane (who found the tape) tells James that maybe the curse is using him to draw James to the forest. They laugh it off at the time. Later, it’s revealed that the video that prompted James to head into the woods was actually shot by a member of his group in the future.

Point is, there’s an interesting question here – is there some connection between the Donahue family and the Blair Witch? Maybe, maybe not – there’s also dialogue in the film about the woods being cursed, and anyone who spends a night there is doomed.

Heather did stay the night, and she was killed. That would seem to end things for her. Spend the night in the forest, you’re cursed, and the witch gets you. Done and done.

But let’s say Lane’s right – let’s say the witch or the curse or whatever is using him to get James back there.

Why? I don’t know. These are the kind of timeless questions only sequels can answer.

This is all assuming the other characters’ families aren’t also being drawn back to the forest, but there’s no mention of such things when James is recalling the days after Heather disappeared. There was a search party, nothing was found, the end.

Now, I could be putting too much weight on this. James was researching the legend, and it’s entirely possible that he simply wanted to see what he saw. His sister did disappear, after all. At the beginning of Blair Witch, there’s been no closure.

So maybe it is all coincidence, right down to him meeting his demise at the hands of the Blair Witch, just like his sister did.

While we’re on a Blair Witch tear, here are some other interesting reads:

And speaking of Nocturne – sequel please? Anyone?

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