Lawrence Toppman

This ‘Blair Witch’ not as shocking as the first or as schlocky as the second

Peter (Brandon Scott, left) and James (James Allen McCune) escort ill-fated Ashley (Corbin Reid) across a stream in “Blair Witch.”
Peter (Brandon Scott, left) and James (James Allen McCune) escort ill-fated Ashley (Corbin Reid) across a stream in “Blair Witch.” TNS

“The Blair Witch Project” revolutionized horror films 17 years ago with its handheld camera – yes, that was once rare – simple plotting and implicit dangers left unexplained.

“Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” so thoroughly ruined the concept that it collapsed at the box office and drove director Joe Berlinger back into documentaries forever.

We are back on shaky ground, both visually and psychologically, in “Blair Witch.” While it doesn’t recapture the black magic of the original, it delivers the requisite terror in the last half-hour after a slow and ambiguous start.

The premise is weak: James (James Allen McCune) decides a blurry image in a YouTube video is Heather, the sister who disappeared in the original film. (It comes from a tape found near the spot where she vanished.) He convinces documentary-maker Lisa (Callie Hernandez, the strongest actor here) to follow him into the woods and search for the house where Heather presumably still dwells.

Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) tag along to enjoy a camping trip. Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), who uploaded that YouTube footage, will show James where they found it only if they can join the search.

Writer Simon Barrett doesn’t clear much up. Is Lane preparing a sacrifice for the witch? Is he a blue-collar prankster playing with the minds of supercilious college students, or a man who wants to know what’s true and figures six heads are better than two?

Barrett and director Adam Wingard give us a supernatural story: People are possessed, objects fly around inexplicably, nonhuman wraiths appear and disappear. They’re at their best when they fall back on disturbingly quick, jerky shots that don’t fully reveal what’s going on – just as in the original.

Blair Witch

1/2

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid.

Director: Adam Wingard.

Length: 89 minutes.

Rating: R (language, terror and some disturbing images).

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