After establishing himself as a distinctive horror filmmaker with hits like The Guest and You're Next, Adam Wingard has taken on a classic.
Blair Witch is a 17-years-later sequel to 1999's sleeper hit The Blair Witch Project, which launched the found-footage craze. Wingard was approached to make the sequel back in 2013 and immediately thought it was something worth taking on. "Found footage has really gone through so many different facets over the years," he says. "It felt like it was time to return to what originally started it all. There were all these lesser found-footage horror films coming out that were doing well at the box office, but that everybody just seemed to kind of hate, honestly."
He credits much of the success of the original film to its marketing. "You can call it a gimmick or whatever, but it was so brilliantly conceived as this real event that happened," he says. "The movie itself you can't mention without talking about its marketing. So in the back of our heads, we knew we had to do something interesting and unique, and it just sort of fell into our laps. The idea of keeping this thing secret all this time, at a certain point it dawned on us that this was our marketing gimmick."
Indeed, no one knew he and his writing partner Simon Barrett were working on a Blair Witch sequel, which gave them a chance to make the film out of the media spotlight. But Wingard says that his biggest challenge was to find a way to push the found-footage world forward. "I knew I wanted to make this the thrill-ride version of Blair Witch," he says. "The original film is this extreme slow burn that amps up the tension and then in the last 10 minutes something big happens. I knew we couldn't just do another movie like that, even though that's what everyone loves about the first film. It would have been disingenuous to try and recapture that framework. This is more about a haunted hayride through Black Hills Forest. It's this experience of being hunted down in the woods by this mysterious evil thing, and finding a new way of joining the cinematic language of conventional horror movies with found footage."
And for Wingard, this also meant honouring the original. "It was really important for us," he says, "to directly link this film to the first one with the kind of family legacy, the 'lega-sequel' approach!"