Movie Review: “Blair Witch” paints itself into a corner

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Well well well, Millennials. You’re the most tech-savvy generation in human history, but pitching a tent confounds you, and you still can’t find your way out the woods.

You can load an app to your smart phone and control a camera drone with it. But you’re still terrified by tied-up twigs.

“Blair Witch” is a sequel/reboot of the hand-held camera classic “The Blair Witch Project,” a film so close to the original that it’s no wonder the filmmakers don’t acknowledge the first film in the screenplay credits.

Considering the generation that’s grown up without seeing the 1999 film — and I polled four Millennials this week, including alleged horror fans, none had — maybe a remake is all that was called for.

But taking a bigger and more attractive cast back into the Black Hills Forest around Burkittsville, Maryland (British Columbia, actually, because who could get lost anywhere in Maryland?) doesn’t make for a better, or even remotely different movie.

Simply put, there is no “Blair Witch” without the “Project” that launched it.

The lame idea that writer Simon Barrett came up with is that a brother of Heather, the young film student who disappeared 17 years ago, is sure he’s seen footage of her — or something that looks like her — from those woods. He wants to “find that house” where she and those who vanished with her could only stare at the corner, facing away from some unspeakable spectral horror.

James (James Allen McCune) thinks Heather might still be alive. In any event, he wants answers and closure. His pal  Peter (Brandon Scott) humors him, but laughs at such beliefs behind James’s back. Film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez) wants to video the search, with ear-bud cameras, GPS, a camera drone, the works.

And Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) is along for grins and giggles.

First obstacle, the guy who found the “new” footage is a nerdy local “researcher” and Blair Witch buff who insists that he (Wes Robinson) and his witch hunting girlfriend (Valorie Curry) come along.

They’ll roast wieners, make s’mores by the campfire. It’ll be fun!

Don’t worry about leaving the cars in the wilderness, “No one cares” that they park there. “No one LIVING that is!”

So the dynamic is set — city kids camping for the first time, locals with supposed local knowledge, people whom the first four don’t trust, along for the ride.

It’s a symptom of this Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”) film’s general haplessness that so little is done with any promising idea in all this. The stick figures are hung in trees all around the campsite, the locals are accused, the groups split up in a huff, and bad things go down, one camper at a time.

Seventeen years of shaky-cam/first-person-point-of-view pictures have ruined the novelty of scaredy cats running through the woods, only seeing what their puny flashlights expose in the pitch darkness. Cheap frights — characters keep sneaking up on each other while they’re filming, with deafening sound effects accompanying them bumping into each other — and a selection of horror stunts borrowed from the “Son of Blair Witch,” aka the “Paranormal Activity” movies, deliver the only hair-raising moments.

There’s no wit, no methodical build-up to the suspense, no time to empathize with the characters, just unneeded bits of exposition the first film didn’t need to scare you to death.

“Legend says that if you look directly at the witch, you’ll die from fright!”

Among the cast, Hernandez (TV’s “Graves” and “From Dusk Till Dawn”) is best at getting across the notion that she’s experiencing something impossible, something utterly terrifying. Her wild-eyed gulps of fear rival Heather Donahue’s fumbling, panting confession in the tent in “The Blair Witch Project,” one of the most iconic scenes and images in all of horror.

The woods around Burkittsville are cursed by the Blair Witch, but we’re the ones dealing with a curse that’s worse. We’re trapped in a movie era of repetition, pointless reboots and inferior copies of the original.

If only the potential audience for this one could be bothered to Netflix “The Blair Witch Project” — preferably on something other than their phones — this reboot could have been avoided. Actually, it still should be.

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MPAA Rating: R for language, terror and some disturbing images

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Credits: Directed by Adam Wingard, script by Simon Barrett, based on “The Blair Witch Project.” A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:29

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