Drop Everything But Your Pants! There’s a new sequel to The Blair Witch Project, slated to open in September. The news broke recently, as in, Friday night recently, when the trailer was shown at Comic-Con in San Diego, as reported by the Nerdist website (another genre-happy blogs and sites). The movie is called The Woods, and includes no members of the previous casts, creators or even distributors of the first film or its first sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Dear Reader, if you’ve been following the escapades of your humble Media Witch for a few years now, you may know I have a Thing for this movie and all things related to it, from back in my days as the Media Coordinator for The Witches’ Voice. I interviewed directors Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez (what the heck happened to those guys?) when it was released by Artisan Entertainment, after they bought it at Sundance where it received widespread critical acclaim. I was even briefly involved with the first sequel due to having a friendly professional connection to its director, Joe Berlinger. The sequel was highly anticipated, released alongside a “webfest” event in Hollywood, but reviews were mixed and generally negative (unfairly so, if you ask me).
This new film looks rather different from the original: a work of gonzo independent cinema that ushered in a new era for horror films, creating a new “found footage” genre and spawning many imitators of its hand-held camera aesthetic and its fake documentary conceit. It’s being produced by Lionsgate, a huge studio. It has music (as did Book of Shadows, scored by the well-loved Carter Burwell), and apparently special effects, and lighting, and cinematography that reflects the completely unintentional camera work shot by the actors in the first Blair Witch movie. There is a meta component to the story, as there was in the first sequel: in Book of Shadows, the young people exploring the woods (including my old friend Jeffery Donovan, who I acted in some plays with in graduate school) were already aware of an obsessed with the mythology of the first movie. In The Woods, we have a young man searching for his missing sister (Heather Donahue? Erica Leerhsen?), and the trailer suggests that the same mysterious energies of that forest that caused the original trio of young film students to become lost also undoes this young man’s search party.
I’m not a big believer in lightning striking twice. It looks to me like many bloggers and reviewers covering this new film may not even have a very clear memory or much knowledge of the original phenomenon: the fake press screenings, the artificial hype created by the filmmakers to help build a credible story that many viewers were utterly fooled by. How many contemporary horror buffs understand the stunning legacy the first film left in its wake?
The teaser trailer for The Woods is slick and moody, full of high-budget camera shots and hyperbolic quotes from pop culture critics. The film’s somewhat last minute announcement has some calling it a “secret Blair Witch sequel.” But I find myself not feeling terribly enthused about the retreating of this material by those who seem to want to capitalize on yet another witch-craze taking place in Hollywood. I expect a lot of hype around this one, similar to the hype around THE WITCH (similarly billed “the scariest movie ever!” amid other high praise), until a wrong-headed distribution effort by A24 placed the film in megaplaxes and not arthouses, where this brilliant but subtle film rightly belonged. This film’s contemporary setting and dialogue will no doubt not be as alienating to audiences as Robert Eggers’ period piece. But will it generate as much controversy? Will there be as much disagreement about its merits? Stay tuned!