Like most of The Blair Witch Project's successors, Blair Witch's found footage format can be a blessing -- a complete immersion into first-person terror -- and a curse. Constantly rolling cameras translate to constantly talking characters, and witty 2016 millennials grate more than disaffected '90s alt-rock youths. With every scene acting as lead-up to an inevitable encounter, Blair Witch punctuates the wandering with peekaboo surprises and "what was that?!" noises. The jump-scares are a necessary evil, eroding the audience to their most vulnerable state.
Blair Witch comes from You're Next and The Guest duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who stretch traces of mythology built into a horror movie mind-bender. First comes the confusion, then a psychedelic disorientation, and finally seven tons of inevitable death -- the kind you might feel if you were stuck in a tunnel with a 200-year-old demonic force behind you.
None of it is that simple -- I said no spoilers and I meant no spoilers -- but the dread conjured by Blair Witch is usually reserved for subconsciousness nightmares or AP tests you forgot to study for (or both, if you were me in high school). A forest drenched in darkness looks the same backwards and forwards. Screw with time and "pitch black" becomes more of a state of being than a state of light. Add the right type of watery-eyed trembling -- Callie Hernandez, who plays Lisa, can broadcast fear like few others -- and you create an effect that disrupts with more force than any "boo."
With pain comes relief. I eventually looked up from my mini anxiety attack and laughed. Those final spurts of slow-burn direction were devilish. The soundscapes, ripped from what I can only assume was a CD of ambient nature tracks covered by Sisters of Mercy, were cartoonishly perfect. And even in cramped spaces, Wingard and Barrett lean into what we know (or think we know) about the Blair Witch. The payoffs lingered. By the end, Blair Witch was under my skin -- not real, but real enough.