I SPOIL everything below.
I do that a lot. Anyway…
BLAIR WITCH can be divided into three parts:
- Boring college kids wander aimlessly in the woods
- Stressed-out people run around in the woods at night
- Goddamned scary-ass house
The structure of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, on the other hand, can be divided thusly:
- A brother searches for his sister with the aid of three friends as two locals make them wonder if they’re not being hoaxed
- Stressed-out people run around in the woods at night, plus rain
- Godddamned scary-ass house
TBWP had novelty going for it, mostly from one of the great early Internet publicity campaigns. Much of the impact of the movie as seen in theaters comes from the “Did this really happen?” debate. Most people knew it wasn’t real, but part of the fun of the TBWP experience was playing along with the ad campaign. The lack of anything to SEE in the movie was a big part of the effectiveness–if some overt spectacle appeared, people would be wondering why the hell the police or F.B.I. weren’t involved. Its cheapness aided its veracity. Without 2, though, it would’ve been a big waste of time, making viewers feel ripped off. As it ended up, TBWP is a masterpiece of suggestion and yes, the use of the tools of cinema. The viewer has an experience of terror inspired in large part by suggestion and the responses of the characters. The only horror shown on-screen is the unraveling of a piece of torn shirt that contains human teeth. It is a model of suggestion and context.
Screenwriter William Goldman defined a sequel this way: “A filmed deal.” Sequels are financed based on the theory that if an audience liked something once, they’ll like it again. If a sequel can’t in some degree be considered “more of something I liked the first time,” it’s going to disappoint. If a sequel is its own thing, it’ll be out of the theaters before a fresh audience will know of its existence. If a squel is enough of its own thing, there’s no point to making it AS a sequel–change a few names and details and you’ve got something new.
A sequel to a movie based on suggestion and the question “Was that real?” is a tough sell.
BW did what horror sequels have been doing since THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSETEIN, picking out what worked in the original and giving you more of it, with a boost.
- The stick figures in TBWP are no longer just ornamental; one kills someone, in the moment where we are finally shown this has all been more than a prank by locals.
- There’s more running around at night, and this time it’s in the rain.
- In one of the weakest of several weak moments and “Eff you!”-inspiring jump scares, the campsite doesn’t just get messed with. A tent flies away. WHEEEE!
- Instead of a video camera and a film camera, there are a bunch of cameras, including a drone camera which could have been cut from the movie entirely.
Significantly, there is a lot less arguing among the lost filmmakers. Four of our cast are friends. Two other victims-to-be show up, their characters defined by the Confederate flag hanging in the pasty white guy’s place. Those of us experienced in lazy screenwriting/politically correct messaging know that this means there will be some controversy involved in his death, requiring a little push so we will not blame the hero/heroine who ‘accidentally’ kills him/her.
With twice as many victims to play with, there’s more to discuss in the walking-through-the-woods part of the story. Part 1 is the most postmodern/self-referential, climaxing with the revelation that much of what jolted us previously MIGHT be a flock of red herrings. Minutes later, we get the broken stick figure, and our first death.
From this point to the beginning of the climax is a lot of running around and a really stupid scene involving a person with a busted foot climbing a tree for a pointless death. The nature of this death doesn’t tell us anything about the attacking force we didn’t already know. There’s no reason this person couldn’t have been croaked on the ground, but since the death doesn’t reveal anything new about the Evil Force, the death stinks of desperation–SOMETHING different has to happen.
“So why did you like this mess?”
Simply put (because I’m way late getting back to the book), the ending is creepy.
Our Final Guy and Final Gal end up at…The Scary House. That the one big extra on the DVD is about the set for The House signals that the moviemakers knew what they had. A little bit Escher, a little HOUSE OF LEAVES and a little more THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, the extended sequence climaxing the movie is a nightmare of being lost in a creepy place. As an added bonus we have a mini-sequence that ramps up the claustrophobia. The last moments are effective and creepy, with the viewer not just observing the characters’ disorientation but experiencing it in the changing environment of the house itself. The idea of the inside of a house being bigger than the outside is damned creepy and the art direction, photography and editing pull of the nightmare beautifully. The ending is marred by a where-the-hell-did-THAT-come-from? moment of Spielbergian Mothership lighting and, more damaging, the final characters’ final actions. Both characters know AND EXPLICITLY STATE you can’t look at the witch or whoever…and then they LOOK.
No question this is dumb, but I don’t care. I hear “You have to define the rules” a lot in reviews of horror movies, but that is a critical tool. “Nightmare logic” is a nice concept, but I still can’t figure out the logic behind the one with the porch and the hot air balloon and the midgets, so two dopes being dopey in a crazy house doesn’t bug me.
It’s not a great movie, but a great haunted house goes a long way with me.
*Now you see the wisdom of my use of letters in my second list. – John the Wise