It is a hard endaevor to make a horror sequel that oudoes its original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, and Evil Dead (2013) are in a group with very sparse company when it comes to horror sequels that have manged to take a crack at their originals. And boy, did Blair Witch try to join this group. With a true teaser trailer entitled "The Woods", Bloody Disgusting critics naming it "One of the scariest movies ever made", and a Blair Witch sequel reveal at Comic-Con, Blair Witch postioned itself expertly to try to live up to its famous protege. It failed.
Not entirely, however. Is Blair Witch scary? Yes. Particularly, the first half of the movie is steeped with original Blair Witch elements: a troop of friends venturing into the woods, unsettling nightly noises outside the tent, time dilation/directional oddities within the woods. In this regard, the first half of Blair Witch is very similiar to the original, and the familiarity is welcome.
But the movie falls apart in the second half. For, about halfway through the film, viewers get a fleeting glance of something monstrous. I begged that this would be the only time we would see this monster. For, the first film succeeded so wholly because it left the blair witch off screen. In fact, the audience does not even garner whether there is a witch within the woods. The original Blair Witch succeeded soley through sounds and uncanny experiences.
Blair Witch performs something extremely odd; it ditches the elements that made the original so great. In fact, the second half of the movie seems more like a Blair Witch/REC fusion than a true Blair Witch remake. For, in the second half, the audience is exposed to what we can only assume is the blair witch. Appearing exactly as the zombies in REC, the creature pursues the protagonists. Blair Witch does not even try to conceal its influences from REC. There is a scene within Blair Witch that appears like a shot-by-shot remake of REC's cover poster, of all things. I can imagine the director asking, "how can we live up to the original. I know! Let's borrow from one of the scariest movies, REC!" Unfortunately, the unhidden rips of REC show through deeply, and exposing the witch undermines all that the original stood for. The director later "revealed" that the onscreen monster was a victim of the blair witch, and not the witch herself. However, protagonists onscreen literally refer to the monster as the witch, so his intentions, at best, are misleading (if he isn't overtly lying, trying to cover his mistake).
Blair Witch is not the scariest movie ever made. It does not redefine horror by means. And it does not live up to its original. Blair Witch however, manages to show that it is hard to make a successful horror remake, particularly if the original is one of the greats in terms of horror canon. Blair Witch seems like a Blair Witch/REC hybrid attempting to create the scariest movie ever, while also advancing the blair witch saga. Sadly, it fails on both fronts. Perhaps one of the oddest feelings, however, is that the movie could have actually garnered more respect if it left out the blair witch attachment, the film being very watchable, if nothing else.