Starring: Callie Hernandez, James McCune, Corbin Reid, The Woods
Director: Adam Wingard
Running Time: 89mins
Synopsis: 17 years ago there was a mysterious disappearance in the Black Hills Forest, the brother of one of the victims (McCune) finds the elusive footage, as seen in The Blair Witch Project, and decides to try and find her. Bringing along some friends they venture into the woods and terror ensues.
In 1999 a documentary came out of nowhere. Showcasing a few kids hunting for a mythical monster in the woods, they are tormented by hidden demons and what follows is a series of shaky cam terrors. But it wasn’t a documentary, it was all a fake. Thanks to an unprecedented marketing campaign and strong word of mouth The Blair Witch Project became the most profitable film of all time. It was also something we’d never seen before, it was the birth of found footage filmmaking. Its influence on horror and cinema in general cannot be overestimated.
Earlier this year a trailer was released for a low budget horror film, The Woods. Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) and accompanied by some critical raves, we were all none the wiser of what it really was. At Comic-Con the announcement was made, this wasn’t a random slice of found footage terror but a much mooted sequel to that 1999 classic. Why all this secrecy? Wingard says it was to build excitement. Marketing ploy this may be but do people really care about seeing more of this after so long and especially after so so many found footage films have worn the genre to death. I think the answer is no (and this weekends awful box office takings are proven this to be true) but what of the film itself. Can it compete with the original whilst also offering something new akin to its 1999 sibling?
The answer is sadly not quite. Found footage is quite frankly annoying to watch. No amount of appreciation of the clever craft on display can make up for a constantly shaking camera and consistently odd angles as the cameraman legs it away from some unseen creature. It also doesn’t make much sense. If we are to believe we are watching video footage that has been retrieved, who the hell edited it together?! For a film technique designed to build realism it all feels a little unbelievable. Some movies have made clever adjustments to the process, Paranormal Activity has always managed to tweak the formula a little in order to keep it fresh, and Wingard attempts to here.
The addition of modern technology provides some added dimensions here. We have ear piece cameras and a drone to give as much camera coverage possible to the nightmare that follows. It all feels a little excessive, like they are trying as many new ways of filming until something cool sticks. However none of them can compare to say the simple camera attached to a slowly moving fan in the third Paranormal Activity. But if the camerawork offers no surprises the sound design should be applauded. Every little sound is increased to deafening proportions and towards the end it becomes almost overbearing but hugely effective. The biggest scares are primarily sound driven, and add immeasurably to the high tension throughout.
Wingard succeeds only intermittently with the scares, as mentioned previously the tension is superbly built but regularly ends with a jump amounting to someone appearing from behind. All build up, no pay off. At least the final scenes are incredibly scary although admittedly things do get ridiculously OTT (par for the course with modern horror) with the originals quiet menace giving way to loud noises and showy effects. Adam Wingard managed to circumvent genre cliches with his previous films, honouring his filmic influences whilst adding his own spin, so it’s a shame to see him fall into such genre trappings.
There is still stuff to admire, the aforementioned sound design, the intriguing mythology, a genuinely creepy reveal of the titular monster, and some solid scares. It just feels like in trying to be beholden to the beats of the original this film can never really stake out its own identity. The cast don’t help much. A likeable bunch, and for once they don’t fall into the usual horror stock personalities, but the material is thin. I’m pained to remember their names let alone what sort of attributes they had. The final moment is meant to be horrifying but thanks to a poor character decision comes across a little stupid. It’s not a good sign that as your leads start to die you feel nothing.
Verdict: Fitfully scary, and made up of some effective parts, the whole doesn’t quite add up to anything fully satisfying. I think it is time to leave the found footage genre out in the woods with not a camera in sight.