TIFF 2016: Blair Witch Review

Midnight Madness

Who would have guessed that a horror sequel no one asked for delivered 16 years after the franchise died would be easily one of the most terrifying films of the year. Yet, here we are. Blair Witch is brilliantly executed and should get packed theaters jumping and screaming on cue . It helps that the deliberately mysterious franchise left so much unexplored and that the talented team hired to bring the witch out of retirement know exactly how to expand on the mythology while still leaving far more questions than answers. This one is a wild ride difficult to shake off. 

Talented genre veterans director Adam Wingard and his regular screenwriter Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S, etc.) are the real secret to this movie’s success. Entrusting the franchise to established filmmakers who delight in playing games with audiences was the perfect choice. They keep things simple, setting the scene with the brother of the lost filmmaker from the first movie going back to the scene of the crime with his own documentary buddies and a few local yocals. After endearing the audience to the new cast at high speed and teasing out some atmosphere, the filmmakers drop the horror hammer and never relent. It starts with the supernatural head games the defined the first movie, but soon grows far more intense. 

Wingard and Barrett delight in cramming nearly every type of scare scene in the rollercoaster second half of their Blair Witch flick. Jump scares, gore, claustrophobia, monsters, surrealism, you name it and they do it (with liberal doses of those creepy wooden statues, naturally). The results are relentless, yet just as playful and self-aware as the filmmakers tend to be. It’s all very clever, but so focused on visceral head-fuckery and audience pants-wetting that most might not even notice until the whole thing wraps up and you scrape your sweaty remains off of the seat. See it immediately and with as many impressionable screaming audience members as possible.

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Blair Witch is a wild ride that should revive the franchise and rocket Wingard/Barrett into the next stage of their exciting careers. Well played. 

Screening: 

Sunday, September 11, 11:59pm, Ryerson

Thursday, September 15, 4:45am, Scotia 2

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