“If you haven’t seen the original movie, this one will frighten the hell out of you regardless.”
It’s been 20 years since James’s sister and her two friends vanished into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while researching the legend of the Blair Witch, leaving a trail of theories and suspicions in their wake. Now James (James Allen McCune of TV’s“Shameless”) and his friends Peter (Wreck-It Ralph’s Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid of TV’s “Disney Star Darlings”) and film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez of upcoming La La Land and Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant) venture into the same woods in Blair Witch, each with a camera to uncover the mysteries surrounding their disappearance.
Blair Witch is directed by director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S, V/H/S/2), who has assembled an accomplished behind-the-scenes team that includes screenwriter and longtime collaborator Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S, V/H/S/2); producers Roy Lee (The Ring, The Strangers, The Grudge) Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious), Keith Calder, p.g.a. (You’re Next, The Guest, Anomalisa, and Jess Calder, p.g.a. (You’re Next, The Guest, The Devil’s Candy); and executive producers Jenny Hinkey, Daniel Myrick (director/writer, The Blair Witch Project), Eduardo Sánchez (director/writer, The Blair Witch Project) and Gregg Hale (producer, The Blair Witch Project).
A Legacy of Fear
The Blair Witch Project, which premiered in 1999 to become a global phenomenon, created lasting lore around our timeless fear of being alone in the woods. The nearly no-budget film grossed millions and set the gold standard for found footage movies, spawning a new generation of horror fans.
“When it first came out, I was one of a billion high school kids taking a camcorder into the woods and doing a Blair Witch spoof with my friends,” says Wingard. “The film had a total dedication toward authenticity. No one has so completely committed to that type of realism before or since. Simon and I re-watched the film half a dozen times during pre-production to consider every option when creating our story, and were we were astounded by how well it held up — not just as a found footage movie but also as a horror movie.”
When Wingard and Barrett were promoting their 2013 horror anthology film V/H/S/2 at Sundance, talk turned to Blair Witch. “As fans, we were asking when they were going to do another Blair Witch because it seemed like the time. But they didn’t really have any answers,” says Wingard. “Cut to a week later, and Simon and I are at a meeting at Lionsgate.”
For several years, Lionsgate had been searching for the right concept to reboot Blair Witch, as well as filmmakers who could satisfy the fans of the first film and reach a new generation of moviegoers. Following the success of V/H/S and the company’s acquisition of Wingard and Barrett’s independent horror movie You’re Next, Lionsgate set up a secret meeting with the duo to pitch the sequel.
“We knew that Adam and Simon had a total mastery of the horror genre and could simultaneously honor the original movie while making something completely groundbreaking and terrifying for 2016,”says Jason Constantine, Lionsgate’s President of Acquisitions and CoProductions.
“Adam Wingard has proven beyond any doubt that he’s the real deal when it comes to delivering tension and scares – and overall compelling storytelling – making him the ideal filmmaker to take on a project as ambitious and complex as this one,” says Lee.
To hold true to the Blair Witch mythos, Barrett familiarized himself with every hint of information the first film contains, from old message boards and Facebook groups to graphic novels and young adult books published only in Europe.
“The mythology was a huge enticement for me because the first film never really explained anything,” says Barrett. “We wanted to take the mythos further and explore how outsiders approach the haunting and how locals see the legend.”
Still, the first film is not required viewing to enjoy the sequel. “If you have seen the original, you’ll find even deeper layers and levels here to appreciate and debate once it’s over,” says Schneider. “If you haven’t seen the original movie, this one will frighten the hell out of you regardless.”
To ensure the story would appeal to those unfamiliar with the first film, the team used Jess Calder as a litmus test.
“When we started on the project, I actually hadn’t seen the original film because when I was young, I was really scared of horror films, which is ironic given what I ended up doing with my life,” says Jess. “So I was a set of fresh eyes who could look at the story and know that it could definitely work for those who had never seen the original film. Of course, before the start of production I made sure to watch the movie so we could all be on the same page with honoring the original movie with our own film.”
Barrett also created likable characters so audiences would have even more of a stake in the story.
“Since you’re practically inside someone’s head, I wanted to ensure each character felt very real and likable, so having that intimate perspective wouldn’t be annoying or unpleasant,” he explains. “It was a balance between how much time to dedicate to the characters and developing that aspect of the film, without taking away from the thrill ride.”
A Veil of Secrecy
Since surprise was part of The Blair Witch Project’s legacy, the filmmakers wanted to keep the sequel under wraps.
“A huge part of the first movie was the surprise of those initial screenings when people weren’t sure if it was real or not,” says Keith Calder. “We hope to capture that same excitement by keeping the film secret in the era of oversharing and excessive marketing on social media, especially of horror films. To us, that felt new and original for the time,” says Barrett.
Keeping such a secret proved an enormous logistical challenge.
“I created versions of the script that were widely different,” says Barrett. “The cast auditioned with fake pages, and the actors didn’t know what movie they agreed to be in until their deals were finalized.”
Different versions of the script also circulated on set. “The art department would be making a sign, and it would be wrong because they were going off the wrong script,” says Barrett.
Now the filmmakers must get accustomed to saying “Blair Witch” out loud. “I’ve been so conditioned never to say those words