Blair Witch

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I remember the day that I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater very well. Mostly because it was part of a double feature. The other movie I saw that day was American Pie. I was 14-years-old and my sister’s boyfriend had to purchase my tickets because both were R-rated features.

I learned a lot that day. It was my own coming of age tale right there at the cineplex. I saw BWP first and then went for American Pie as a palate cleanser. Looking back, I wish I’d done it in reverse. As a freshman in high school, American Pie was much more frightening to my unsullied brain than The Blair Witch Project was. I was like, “that’s what I’m in for? I’m goin’ to the woods instead.”

Blair Witch is being called the sequel to BWP. Only… there was a sequel already. Are we just acting like that never happened? Got it.

When James Donahue (James McCune) finds a video that he believes to be footage of his sister Heather who disappeared 17 years earlier, he gathers friends to venture into the Black Hills Forest with him in hopes of finding her. James has very good friends. He must’ve helped all of them move at one point or something because unless I owe you big time, you’re goin’ into those haunted ass woods by your damn self.

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Tagging along are his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott). Lisa’s going to film the whole thing documentary style. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from movies, it is that if you are going to go somewhere and film it, you’re probably also going to die or find yourself in a precarious situation that nobody wants to be in.

To keep us current, the friends have also brought along a drone for some sweet aerial shots. This can only mean good things.

The group meet up with Talia (Valorie Curry) and Lane (Wes Robinson) — the couple who uploaded the footage that started everything from a video tape they found — who then decide to join them.

Countless. That is the number I’ve come up with for how many times I would’ve peace’d tf out. Obviously there are going to be bizarre things happening. Like, they don’t just go into the woods, find his sister, and then go have a pint at the Black Hills Forest Pub. It’s the severity of the weirdness, though, that varies and sort of makes you go, “Wait, was that crazy? Or was that just crazy because we’re all really freaked out and on edge?”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love horror movies that take a handful of characters and put them in an isolated location. It’s a formula that has been proven to work time and time again. No matter what the circumstances, there’s always a point where everyone starts to suspect everybody else of being behind the creepy goings on. Who can you trust? Anyone? No one? We’re all dead? Cool!

So they set up camp and have super eerie campfire conversations, like you do, on the first night out. After oversleeping until 2p, they pop their little heads out of their tents to find the infamous Blair Witch stick figures all over camp. For once, a logical decision is made when the group decide to call it a day and GTFO. After traipsing through the trees for hours on end, they find themselves right back at camp. They even use GPS and the drone to try to nail down their location.

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That right there is why this movie is so excellent; people are making good choices. They’ve gotten themselves into a pickle and are trying to right things again, but not even Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves could help them now.

This movie is nightmare fuel. It doesn’t give much, but that is way more effective than going the other way. It’s a slow burn that gradually becomes an inferno. What makes the Blair Witch itself so terrifying as that it’s left completely to the imagination. We have very little notion of the size, shape, or physical appearance. So our minds are free to run wild with ideas; each more panic-inducing than the last.

Also, I was delighted to find that this movie is really frickin’ funny! That, I was not expecting. I love a good thriller with a sense of humor. Blair Witch gets the job done without diminishing the feeling of imminent terror pukes.

Nobody dies in this movie.

Just kidding. People totally die. Or vanish. Or … get beamed up. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. What I do know is that Adam Wingard knows how to make a scary ass movie. Directing one of my favorite films of the last decade, You’re Next, Wingard is also responsible for segments in two other greats, V/H/S and V/H/S 2.

To put a bow on things, Wingard teamed up with music producer Robert Rich to create a perfectly macabre blanket of sound to complete the hell-on-screen world of the Black Hills Forest.

If you enjoyed the first one, I’d wager a guess that you’ll love this one. This movie has Wingard all over it. It’s supremely creepy, disarmingly witty, and really brings the A game jump scares. If you really want that genuine we’re-all-gonna-die feel, see this one in the theater for sure.

 

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Hell or High Water

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As someone who used to work in a bank, my worst fear was that one of my wealthier customers would come in and drone on about their recent holiday in The Maldives and then tell me, “You can visit one day, too, if you put your mind to it!”

My second worst fear was being robbed. I worked in an affluent neighborhood, so in the early morning hours I mostly ran into rich people who had nothing better to do than be awake, drinking coffee and walking their cobblestone streets.

Hell or High Water starts with a bang when brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) nab bank teller Elsie (Dale Dickey) as she’s slipping the key into the lock. Forcing her inside the bank, she gives them lip service that I certainly wouldn’t be able to muster, but then again, they are in Texas.

Come to find out that Toby and Tanner are on a bit of a bank robbing bender. In some cases, the rush appears to outweigh the necessity for Tanner, but Toby is far more level-headed. Partly because that’s just his demeanor; partly because he has to be for his boys. Tanner and Toby are polar opposites in a lot of ways. Tanner has a mean streak; his crass carelessness often inviting trouble. Toby feels a sense of responsibility to do right by his family, making him far more concerned with doing the right thing. That idea often disagrees with whatever Tanner’s got going on.

The end game here is saving the family’s ranch in West Texas, but at what cost? Causing a commotion in The Lone Star State is a good way to get everyone in the vicinity to draw their guns, and trigger happy Tanner has no problem following suit. When the news of the robberies reach the local jurisdiction, the hunt is on and two of the best rangers in TX are hot on the trail.

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If I’m ever on the run from the law, I don’t want Jeff Bridges donning the badge behind me. Bridges plays Hamilton. He’s the version of Rooster Cogburn who stays on the right side of the law and doesn’t drink nearly as much. Nearing retirement, Hamilton and his partner, Parker (Gil Birmingham), track the bandit brothers all over Texas, looking at patterns and estimating where they might make a mistake.

For me, this movie felt like a less engaging version of No Country For Old Men. Jeff Bridges, of course, slightly reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff character; Toby and Tanner representing a far less menacing, fluffier version of Anton Chigurh.

I always enjoy Jeff Bridges. The movie gives good character development with both Hamilton and Parker and Toby and Tanner. Hamilton is endlessly razzing Parker for being a “half-breed” and throwing cleverly crafted, racially charged jabs his way. Parker, in turn, takes the high road, recognizing that his partner is a bit long in the tooth, almost retired, and that he, to quote Matt Hooper in Jaws, “Won’t have to take this abuse much longer.”

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Hell or High Water is OK. I didn’t love it, I didn’t notice anything exceptional about it, and I definitely didn’t think it was as funny as everyone else deems it. I did enjoy the score quite a bit. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do a nice job of combining soft piano with that sort of spine-tingling string thing that nearly the entire OST to There Will Be Blood is made of. The cinematography knocked it out of the park, too. Great, big wide shots and wonderful use of the landscape.

Overall, it’s fine. It’s got a bit of charm and wit, and it’s got Chris Pine’s giant dome — seriously, where did the costumes department find a ski mask that would fit over that thing — but I guess I was just expecting something… more. It’s like an itch I can’t quite scratch. I’m not gonna tell you not to see it. You’re a grown ass adult and you can do whatever you want. If I were you, though, I’d wait for Netflix.