Sam Strange Remembers: BLAIR WITCH

Another batch of actors give their lives for their art.

Many years ago, I made a movie called The Blair Witch Project. In retrospect, I consider this my most successful film ever. The money was ridiculous, but that’s not what I mean. By making a movie where the actors held their own cameras and came up with their own lines, I never even had to show up for work. The only problem was an actual witch ended up killing my actors, and I had to hike some dumb woods to recover the footage.

Since then, the film has become a classic, not just because it made money but because it created an aesthetic called “found footage”, one nobody dared to copy because it requires killing actors. So not only is The Blair Witch Project the best found footage movie out there, but it’s also the only found footage out there. I’m very proud of that.

All these years later, it dawned on me that revisiting this idea might be a good idea. They say lightning can’t strike the same spot twice, but that’s not true. You just need patience and a huge rod. And I have both.

I did a little research. As fate would have it, the brother of the actress who died in the first movie was A) also an aspiring actor and B) young and hot enough to be in a movie. I told him I heard his sister was still alive and asked him to be in a movie where he tries to find her. He grabbed some pals and the cameras I gave him and set off for the woods.

But he only had three pals. If I know anything about sequels, I know you have to make everything bigger. So I needed more actors. I contacted two kids in the area who had done some high school plays and asked them to be in the movie too. They got real excited and took some cameras as well, thus doubling my movie’s potential kill count. Plus, they were a strange mixture of gothy and racist, so no one would miss them.

One of these cameras was attached to a remote-controlled drone. That will come up later when I explain my disappointment in how little it comes up later.

But all in all, this whole thing was the best. Not only did I get to sit at home while all these actors met a crazy witch, but now I could have the footage sent to me in real time. No more messing around with burs and chiggers to recover my movie! What could be better?

So the kids get out there, and the witch starts fucking with them immediately. She starts off differently this time. I think all those years alone made her bored. Instead of doing scary stuff like making weird noises while they sleep, she just goes nuts knocking down trees. Instead of giving them daylight to collect themselves and argue, she just stops time. Who needs it? She really, really wants to get these actors and has no patience for playing any kind of long game.

One also gets the idea that she spent those off-years inventing new ways to play with people. They don’t really pan out. One girl gets a little Blair Witch in her foot, but it takes too long to do anything so the witch just abandons the idea. Conversely, the witch also found a way to turn her little stick figures into voodoo dolls, but that ends up killing an actor too quickly, so she abandons that too. Not only that, but due to her excitement and impatience, she occasionally forgets to cloak herself for the cameras. There are a couple moments where you can almost see her if you’re willing to frame-by-frame the footage and fill in blanks with your own devotion toward liking this movie.

But eventually, she returns to old tricks. This means a lot of chasing kids through the woods. Actors lose their ability to shoot good footage when this happens, but since this is only the second found footage movie ever, I doubted people would mind. I would never have the balls to fill one of these with a bunch of shaky-cam foliage if audiences had been constantly seeing that shit for almost two decades. That’d be ridiculous.

The stupid drone lands in a tree before it can do anything cool. You win some, you lose some.

Before long, the witch chases the two remaining kids into the crazy house from the first movie that burned down long before we even made that film. She can do that. Heck! She can do anything - she’s a witch! For instance, there’s also an early deleted scene where she changes everyone’s text notification noise to Tim Allen’s Home Improvement grunts. There’s another deleted bit where she gets rid of daylight saving’s time.

They run around the spooky house a lot. One crawls through a tunnel. Eventually, the witch’s knees get tired so she starts knocking them out and eating them or whatever she does. I was a little disappointed. I thought maybe something new would happen or we’d learn a bit about what the witch is up to. But no. It’s the same old thing.

Luckily, people have nostalgia for the original, so maybe it’s best the witch didn’t abandon her M.O. too much. When it comes to this kind of filmmaking, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. I can’t exactly hit her earpiece to deliver notes on how to maybe be cooler than she was almost two decades ago. I respect that she tried with the foot thing and the voodoo dolls. Even the best of us occasionally need a second draft.

As for me, this one was even easier than the first. The actors started and stopped recording themselves, so I didn’t even need to edit the thing, so long as I allowed cacophonic transitions between shots (they never quite learned how to use the cameras, so they turn them off and on with big, clumsy slaps). It’s supposed to be horror, so those awful noises actually helped with jump scares. I did have to cut a few scenes and lop off the hours of footage of an empty room at the end, but that’s nothing.

In all, I spend about 1,000 dollars on cameras for this. That was the whole budget. I regret spending anything on the stupid drone, but I’ll get it all back within the first hour of release. I doubt the six actors would have amounted to much, so show me a downside. I think I might attach GoPros to Japanese robots next time, though, just out of curiosity.

(three stars)

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