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Blair Witch

In 1999, low budget horror The Blair Witch Project conjured a perfect storm. Co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez passed off their chilling work of fiction as bona fide found footage and convinced some audiences that three student filmmakers had perished in the Black Hills in Maryland. Handheld camerawork induced motion sickness, festival audience members fainted and the filmmakers milked each nugget of publicity with ghoulish glee. It was a masterclass in marketing. Shot under a veil of secrecy under the fake title of The Woods, director Adam Wingard's belated sequel retains the same stylistic conceit as more ill-fated students venture into the woods to discover if the legend of the witch is real. Since the release of the original film, savvy audiences have been bombarded with imitations so it would take a miracle for Wingard to catch lightning in a bottle again. He comes close with a couple of sequences of nail-biting suspense, including a subterranean crawl that begs you to watch through your fingers. However, there are only so many times you can see characters charging noisily through undergrowth in the dead of night, twitching with terror in close-up at each rustle of leaves, before tension dissipates. For more than 20 years, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) has been haunted by the disappearance of his sister Heather, whose chilling final moments were documented in footage from October 1994 that became The Blair Witch Project. James is convinced she is alive and his suspicions seem to be confirmed by shaky handheld footage posted on a video sharing website by username Darknet 666. "If there's any chance I can find out what happened to her, I need to try," James tells his girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who is making a documentary for a class project. She packs recording devices and a drone and heads to Burkittsville with James and their good friends, Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid), in order to rendezvous with Darknet 666 aka oddball Lane (Wes Robinson) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry). The couple believe wholeheartedly in the legend of the Blair Witch and forcibly persuade James and his pals to let them join the expedition. Ignoring a sign which reads, "No entry after nightfall", the group treks into the woods with flashlights and camping gear. Blair Witch is a solid and unsettling genre piece that falls short of the dizzying, gasp-inducing terror that heralded a phenomenon in 1999. The introduction of modern technology adds nothing to the fear factor. Indeed, a prolonged sequence with a drone up a tree is a superfluous deviation from plausibility. Jump out of seat scares are delivered at regular intervals and a frenetic denouement nods to the past and pries a creaky door ajar for future sequels.