It’s been 20 years since James’s sister and her two friends vanished into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while researching the legend of the Blair Witch, leaving a trail of theories and suspicions in their wake.
A group of students venture into the same woods each with a camera to uncover the mysteries surrounding their disappearance.
The Blair Witch Project, which was released in 1999 and became a global phenomenon, created mounting dread around our timeless fear of being alone in the woods. Made on a tiny budget, the film went on to become a huge box-office smash, setting the gold standard for found-footage movies and inspiring a new generation of horror fans.
One of those fans was director Adam Wingard, (You’re Next, The Guest): “When it first came out, I was one of a billion high school kids taking a camcorder into the woods and doing a Blair Witch spoof with my friends,” says Wingard. “The film had a total dedication toward authenticity. No one has so completely committed to that type of realism before or since. As fans, we were asking when they were going to do another Blair Witch because it seemed like the time.”
For several years, Lionsgate had been searching for the right concept to reboot Blair Witch, as well as filmmakers who could satisfy the fans of the first film and reach a new generation of moviegoers. They found them in Wingard and long-time collaborator and screenwriter, Simon Barrett.
Producer Roy Lee (The Ring) was excited to be working with Wingard and Barrett, “Adam and Simon have already proven beyond any doubt that they’re the real deal when it comes to delivering tension and scares — and overall compelling storytelling — making them ideal candidates to take on a project as ambitious and complex as this one.”
To hold true to the Blair Witch myths, Barrett familiarised himself with every hint of information the first film contains, from old message boards and Facebook groups to graphic novels and young adult books published only in Europe.
“The mythology was a huge enticement for me because the first film never really explained anything,” says Barrett. “We wanted to take the myths further and explore how outsiders approach the haunting and how locals see the legend.”
The challenge for the team says the screenwriter “was to make a modern horror movie that acknowledged and surpassed everything that’s happened in horror over the last 17 years, including films like The Conjuring, Insidious and Saw, and have the film feel as real to audiences as it did in 1999.”
Perhaps surprisingly there is no ‘shaky cam’ in the Blair Witch. “Audiences complained about the first movie’s shaky cam, but that’s what made it so scary and real,” says Wingard. “We knew we couldn’t get away with that, especially with the mainstream horror audience we were going for. It was always a combination of how to retain that aesthetic but make it easier on the eyes.”
To create a non-stop thrill-ride, filmmakers swapped the first film’s 16mm, black-and-white camera for discrete head-cams and a drone.
“One of the problems with found-footage films is you’re hyper aware of the cameras,” says Wingard. “We wanted to make sure that was thrown out the door, so when the horror happens, you are 100 percent invested and put in a scenario in a way you’ve never been before and completely terrorised by it.”
Showcase Cinemas audiences should be prepared to be frightened to venture into the woods once again!
Blair Witch is out at Showcase Cinemas from September 16