Blair Witch (2016) vs. The Blair Witch Project – a Comparison

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My expectations weren’t high when I saw the new Blair Witch movie, so I wasn’t too disappointed. It was entertaining enough, and had a few genuinely tense moments. But more than anything the sequel reminded me just how amazing the first one was, and it was easy to see why.  Blair Witch feels momentary; it’ll make you jump a few times in the theater, but it won’t keep you up at night.  The Blair Witch Project is quite the opposite: lacking in jump scares but filled with deeply psychological horror. When compared to one another, the two feel like how-to and how-not-to guides for making a horror movie. I decided to analyze them based on how they each handled specific elements of their respective stories.

Note: This analysis contains spoilers for both films.

Pacing

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Original:

The first third of The Blair Witch Project isn’t particularly eventful, but it’s never boring. The interviews with the local townsfolk, along with the introductions of our soon-to-be stranded protagonists, establish a subtly foreboding atmosphere.  In the first few scenes after the trio finds themselves lost, they’re more annoyed than scared – but that changes with each night they’re forced to spend in the woods.  The slow-and-steady pace of the group’s descent into hopelessness creates a suffocating sense of inevitability that remains just as – if not more – effective on repeat viewings.

2016:

Blair Witch is efficient in its setup, quickly introducing the cast of characters and sending them into the woods soon after.  But aside from a few minor occurrences early on, the horror element goes from zero to one hundred about forty percent of the way through – and due to some time bending on the witch’s part, the movie takes place at night for the rest of its running time.  The original’s daytime scenes provided a necessary breather from the intense nighttime sequences, but also produced an existential horror of their own.  Blair Witch doesn’t allow its characters any time to contemplate their situation, depriving the audience of the brutal, all-too-real arguments that made the original so terrifying.

The Witch’s Abilities

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Original:

The witch’s intangibility in The Blair Witch Project is a perfect example of the terror that comes from suggestion.  All of the witch’s physical activity – be it placing stones and stick men at the campsite or covering Josh’s backpack in slime – happens off-screen. The closest she gets to physical contact with the main characters are the attacks on the tents, and even then there’s nothing inherently supernatural about them.

2016:

Blair Witch eschews the subtle interactions of the first movie, making the witch a powerful, distinctly physical presence.  She pushes down trees, pulls tents into the air, infects feet with slithering creatures, and gruesomely contorts a girl to death. These over-the-top displays of strength give the movie a campy Final Destination vibe at times, and quickly outstay their welcome.

Human Characters

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Original:

The Blair Witch Project is painfully intimate, with a cast of three for most of its running time.  Each actor is wholly believable in his or her role, due in part to the largely improvised dialogue.  And thanks to the rawness of the three central performances, the group’s deteriorating mental states and increasingly hostile exchanges are nightmares unto themselves.  The moments when Heather discovers Josh’s remains, or when Mike gleefully admits what he did with the map, are all the more horrific because we believe they’re real people.

2016:

Blair Witch takes the Saw II approach to a horror sequel: the same thing, but with more people.  But while Saw II’s larger cast made it enjoyable, Blair Witch’s is a mark against it. The characters are likable but forgettable, and their deaths lack the devastating impact of those in the original.

The Witch

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Original:

In the original film, we never see the witch in any way, shape, or form.  All we get is a local’s chilling description of a woman covered in horse-like hair from head to toe, and even this is never confirmed.  The filmmakers understood that the idea of the Blair Witch was far more terrifying than any creature effect could ever hope to be.

2016:

We see the witch. Admittedly, we only get brief glimpses, but they’re still far too much. By attaching a solid, physical appearance to what was previously a haunting myth, the new version sacrifices any lasting fear for a fleeting jump scare.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it feels a little unfair to compare these two movies.  The Blair Witch Project was lightning in a bottle – the kind of movie that can never be replicated, despite its countless imitators.  But it’s still disheartening that Blair Witch settles for being a poor man’s retread that makes every mistake the first movie avoided.

One of The Blair Witch Project’s greatest strengths is that it remains a deeply disturbing film without its supernatural elements.  It’s heavy with the existential despair that comes from a completely real-life scenario: a group of campers getting lost in the woods.  Blair Witch, meanwhile, completely leans on the supernatural aspect, sacrificing any realism in favor of a jump-scare fest that’s as disposable as any of its genre’s contemporaries.  Both movies prove a tried-and-true lesson when it comes to evoking genuine, enduring horror through film: less is more.

Netflix Review: The Fundamentals of Caring

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Paul Rudd offers a handicapped boy his sausage in “The Fundamentals of Caring”

The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd as Ben, a former writer who decides to try caregiving after a personal tragedy (read: dead kid).  His charge is Trevor (Craig Roberts), an English teen whose Duchenne muscular dystrophy leaves him paralyzed and without fine motor skills.  After developing an often-adversarial friendship with Trevor, Ben convinces him to join him for a cross-country road trip.  The back and forth between Rudd and Roberts is the movie’s greatest strength – it’s usually quite funny, and neither character is afraid to joke about Trevor’s condition.

Along the way, the two pickup Dot, a teenage hitchhiker played by Selena Gomez (yeah, right).  Though we never believe her as a street-smart runaway, she does a decent job as Trevor’s sort-of love interest.  Unfortunately, she’s also the victim of some cringe-worthy dialogue that mistakes swearing for humor.

The Fundamentals’s biggest problem, though, is its lack of originality.  All these characters are straight out of the indie movie playbook: the goofy but grief-stricken lead, the smart-mouthed handicapped youth, and the beautiful but troubled girl.  The same goes for the story’s emotional beats, which are well handled but quite predicable.  There’s a scene, for example, in which the group makes a pit stop to meet Trevor’s long-absent dad; surprise, surprise, it doesn’t go well.

The movie also suffers from a melodramatic climax in which Ben must step up and save the day, the scenario of which is a clumsy and obvious metaphor for his redemption.  Trevor also gets a big moment in the final reel, which is fleetingly amusing but ultimately lame.  Both of these sequences feel out of place in this quiet indie dramedy; they’d be more at home in a generic Hollywood feel-good movie.  But despite these fumbling attempts at dramatic payoff, the movie regains its footing for a satisfying conclusion.

Thanks to the comedic chemistry of its leads and a solid screenplay, The Fundamentals of Caring usually works.  It won’t blow anyone’s mind, but it is an enjoyable diversion, and that’s more than I can say for most of Netflix’s film library.

Movie Review – Mechanic: Ressurection

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Mechanic: Resurrection, the follow-up to 2011’s The Mechanic, didn’t need to be a sequel.  Honestly, it didn’t really need to exist in the first place, but here we are, so I might as well review it.

The plot is fairly standard stuff: bad guy kidnaps Arthur Bishop’s (Jason Statham) new girlfriend (Jessica Alba), bad guy blackmails Bishop into doing three assassinations, Bishop carries out assassinations, etc.  It doesn’t really matter; like Statham’s best action films (the Crank and Transporter series) the story is just a vehicle to get to the mayhem.  But unlike those movies, which knew to keep the pace fast and the action frequent, this one drags, mainly thanks to a completely unnecessary love story.  There’s no reason for Jessica Alba not to be Bishop’s girlfriend from the start, but the movie insists on subjecting us to their awkward and unconvincing courtship.

Resurrection picks up a bit after plodding through said love story, shifting the focus to Bishop’s assassinations.  There’s fun to be had in these sequences, which show Bishop’s methodical planning processes followed by their Mission: Impossible-like executions.  Breathing some more life into the movie is Tommy Lee Jones, who shows up in the third act as a far-out arms dealer.  He’s a welcome (if underused) presence here, clearly enjoying himself in a not-so-serious role.

As for Statham, he’s as charismatic as ever, pulling off impressive stunts while conveying an intelligence rarely seen in an action hero.  Too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to his performance.

P.S.  Stay tuned for news regarding the future of Kevin and Vil’s Movie Show.

Kevin and Vil’s Movie Show: Episode Nine

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This time Vil and I check out three classic garage sale comedies.  If you don’t know what those are, you’ll have to listen to find out!  (Go to 0:53 to skip the music.)

Listen (and call in) to us at our new time, Saturdays from 5-6 P.M., through WNUR at wnur.org.

Kevin and Vil’s Movie Show: Episode Eight

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This week Vil and I travel to Japan with my brother Sean guest hosting.  Our three movies, Executive Koala, Marebito, and The Machine Girl, are sure to bring great honor to your family.  (Go to 1:35 to skip the music.)

Listen (and call in) to us at our new time, Saturdays from 5-6 P.M., through WNUR at wnur.org.

Kevin and Vil’s Movie Show: Episode Seven

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This week Vil and get claustrophobic with the one-room movies Rope, The Big Kahuna, and Buried.  (Go to 3:30 to skip the music.)

Next week we travel to the East with Japanese movies Marebito, Executive Koala, and Machine Girl.

As always, you can listen live (and call in) Thursdays from 4-5 A.M. through WNUR at wnur.org.