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BLAIR WITCH: 3 ½ STARS. “actually made me say ‘yuck’ out loud.”

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-5-51-06-pmThe long awaited “Blair Witch Project” follow-up doesn’t have a theme song, but if it did I’d suggest “Teddy Bear Picnic.” In particular I’m thinking the line, “If you go out in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise,” because, boy, there are some surprises in the film’s dense woods.

“Blair Witch” begins with the core cast preparing to return to the scene of the strange disappearances documented in the original film. James (James Allen McCune) was only four-years-old when his sister vanished in 1994 while making a documentary about a witch said to haunt the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland. James thinks his sister still may be alive after he found some blurred footage online that seems to contain a shot of her. Teaming with friends Peter (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid) and student filmmaker Lisa (Callie Hernandez) he sets off to find answers, camera gear in hand.

They meet up with Darknet666, the Burkittsville stoner couple named Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who posted the footage that grabbed James’s eye and proceed into the woods in search of the house seen in the 1994 footage. “This area has a history happening that nobody really wants to talk about,” says Lane ominously.

Lane, an expert in Blair Witch lore warns the troupe, “The legend says if you look directly at the witch you die of fright,” as strange things begin to happen. Cue the jump scares, red herrings, things that go bump in the woods and close-ups of scared young people.

This really should have been called “Blair Witch: Return to Burkittsville” because the style of the film so closely apes the original film. Shadowy, half lit images fill the screen as the camera careens around the screen as if it was tied to the back of an agitated mule. It’s all over the place, rarely resting on any one image for longer than a fraction of a second.

In the first hour it’s same old, same old. It feels like every other found footage film that came after ‘Blair Witch Project. ” Then, about sixty-minutes in things get really shaky… I mean scary. When director Adam Wingard gets over his love of jump scares and does a pretty good job with some body horror—ick—and primal fears of the dark, small spaces in the unknown.

“Blair Witch’s” final third actually made me say “yuck” out loud and question why I was spending my life watching this movie. In a good way. When Wingard moves past the cheap theatrics he concentrates on the uncomfortable scares that horror fans crave. If you want to feel scared in a place where you are actually safe, go see “Blair Witch” in a theatre. For me, the best part of “Blair Witch” was listening to the audience, the other people in the dark, give in to the film’s frights.

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