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Blair Witch & Don’t Breathe: The Horror!

September 15, 2016

 

the-woods-2016-poster-3I’m a big wuss when it comes to horror movies — just ask my college roommate, Arnold Wayne Jones, who heard me scream like a little girl when we went to see the original Child’s Play (sorry, that Chucky doll really freaked me out!). But when I hear about a film that’s supposedly bringing something new to the genre, I screw up my courage and suffer through it. I’m often glad I did: The Witch still stands as one of my favorite films this year, and Silent House made my 2012 top 10 list.

Back in 1999, I was one of the millions who were thrilled by The Blair Witch Project. It felt fresh because it was: a found-footage shocker (was it a documentary or a brilliant fake-out?) about a group of kids who get lost in the woods and meet horrible fates at the hands of an all-but-unseen monster. In the 17 years since, the faux-doc format has been done to death, but that didn’t stop the new reboot, simply titled Blair Witch.

An earlier sequel, 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 departed significantly from the original format and fell flat at the box office. While the first BWP cost $60,000 and grossed $140.5 million, BSBW2 cost $15 million and topped out at $26.4 million. That probably explains why the new BW sticks so slavishly to the initial concept.

Again, a group of youngsters head into the Maryland forest — this time, it’s the younger brother of one of the women who disappeared in the first film, and he’s convinced she’s still alive. While the filmmakers add a few new touches (the kids have a drone and GPS technology), it’s essentially the same old thing all over again. They get lost, find out they’ve been walking in a circle, stumble onto a house of horrors and suffer gruesomely. The film adds nothing new to the Blair Witch mythology: You’re still not supposed to look at her, so we get more eerie shots of people standing in corners. Blair Witch isn’t badly made, and the cast is competent (the only standout co-star is Valorie Curry, who was previously seen as a serial killer’s minion on The Following), but it’s not especially scary because you know exactly what’s going to happen.

The movie’s even more of a disappointment when you compare it to Don’t Breathe, a breath of fresh air for the horror genre that recently topped the box office for two weeks. It’s a wholly original concept: a trio of Detroit teens breaks into the home of a blind Gulf War veteran, intending to steal his stash of cash. But he turns the tables, and his abode proves to be a house of horrors. (It’s a clever spin on 1967’s Wait Until Dark, in which Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman terrorized by intruders).

Don’t Breathe benefits from a clever script and tight direction by Fede Alvarez, and it reunites him with the winsome Jane Levy, who co-starred in his Evil Dead remake. The best thing about the movie is Stephen Lang’s visceral performance as the Blind Man (that’s all he’s called). He manages to seem semi-sympathetic and scare the bejeezus out of you at the same time, all while barely uttering a word for most of the tight 88-minute running time. A particularly icky twist towards the end may leave a momentary bad taste in your mouth, but I walked out of the theater hungry for more.

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