Let’s get this out of the way. 2016’s Blair Witch is pretty much unwatchable. Coming in at a 36% Rotten Tomatoes score, I didn’t expect much of it. Really, the only reason I even watched was because it’s directed by Adam Wingard, whose last film The Guest was my #2 of 2014. If a director makes something that I fall in love with I tend to give them the benefit of doubt for their next couple projects. Wingard’s follow up to The Guest could have been “Pencil: The Movie” and I would watch.
This Blair Witch sequel takes place 15 years after the original, again using the found footage viewpoint. Apparently, snotty-nosed Heather left behind a kid brother named James when she vanished in the legendary woods of Burkittsville, MD way back when. Haunted with the gut feeling that she’s still alive, now college-aged James sets out to those same woods with five pals to see if they can find any clues to her whereabouts, of course bringing along a variety of video gadgets to document any evidence. Anyone who’s seen 1999’s The Blair Witch Project can probably guess how the rest unfolds. A part of me hoped that Wingard would bring some sort of unique nuance to the story, but this never occurs. It’s not at all scary, I could give a shit about The James Gang, and the continuously speedy cuts back and forth between the found footage devices seems to churn everything up into visual gibberish. I guess it’s just hard to make something scary again that has been parodied a thousand times over (case in point Paranormal Activity).
All that said, I can’t fault Lionsgate and Wingard for making Blair Witch. From a fiscal standpoint, there’s really no safer route to a high yield on investment than a horror movie (assuming you don’t own Star Wars or Marvel intellectual property to mess around with). Horror significantly cheaper to make than other genres (partly because it doesn’t require pre-established movie stars), and a sufficient number of 18-35 year-olds will predictably turn up at the theater for a promising scary trailer no matter what. Just take a look at the horror results of 2016: Don’t Breathe’s $89M box office on a $10M budget, The Shallows $55M on a $17M budget, Lights Out’s $67M on a $5M budget. Even the 10% Rotten Tomato scored The Forest made $27M on a $10M budget. I’m not cherry picking here. These are normal returns for horror this decade, however this doesn’t apply to the other genres. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot made $23M on a $35M budget. Keanu made $20M on a $15M budget. Allied made $40M on an $80M budget!
Please note these production budget figures do not factor in marketing, but the box office returns I used are domestic only so I figure it evens out. In case your curious, Blair Witch made $21M domestic, good for #102 on the 2016 domestic box office top earners. By eclipsing Keanu, Edge of Seventeen, and Birth of a Nation with this shitty of a movie on a $5M budget, I chalk that up to a mild financial success. Hopefully it allows Wingard the clout to make a sequel to The Guest next (Guest Who?) and leave Burkittsville, MD alone for good. Grade: F