The Makers of 'Blair Witch' Talk New Mythology and Scares That Didn't Make It Into the Movie

The Makers of 'Blair Witch' Talk New Mythology and Scares That Didn't Make It Into the Movie

Sep 19, 2016

The Blair Witch Project is a movie that came along at the right time time in the right way, sparking a national media frenzy and pioneering an entire genre in the process. So many people focus on its legacy within the industry that it's easy to forget that it's a pretty weird, twisty horror movie that eventually traps its leads in a world where time and space don't really seem to match the real world. 

It's this distinct, mysterious and yet often overlooked side of its horror that writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard latched on to for Blair Witch, their new sequel to the 1999 classic. In their film the brother of one of the missing filmmakers goes searching for his sister with his own group of friends. This time around, the Blair Witch has a few more tricks at her disposal, so we talked to Barrett and Wingard about their freaky new additions, and clever expansions, of the Blair Witch mythology.

Warning, there are some spoilers below, so only read if you've seen Blair Witch. Oh, and if you haven't seen it, we recommend you do. Just make sure you keep an eye out for the map. I told my five-year-old I was going to see a movie called Blair Witch and he asked me, "Well...what does the witch do to people?" What's your answer to that?

Barrett: Whether there's an actual witch or not, if you look at the history of the Blair Witch curse, mostly which is referenced in the original movie and the ancillary materials such as the Blair Witch Dossier, I have the idea that the Blair Witch is something so old we don't really know what it or she is. What I would say she does is find people who can keep bringing her sacrifices and keep this haunting in the woods going because the woods are just a cursed place now.

We show different versions of how people get caught in the haunting. There's the Rustin Parr version and there's the Elly Kedward version, that's the witch who is referenced in the first movie and who I posit in this film had her limbs stretched.

Wingard: I think the important thing about the Blair Witch universe is never giving definitive answers. You obviously have to provide some sort of explanation, but in this case it's more explanation in the form of theories. If you're going to give a theory, you need to give more than one so the audience has things they can draw their own conclusions from. So I think if we end up doing more of these Blair Witch films – if this one is successful – we'll continue to go down that road and hopefully reveal things about this film, as we all as the first film. If we give you all of the answers there's nothing left to play with, and ultimately this is a film that's designed to be discussed later. Everyone should have their own interpretation and discuss it. What interests you most about the Blair Witch? Not the original movie, but the overall world of the Blair Witch?

Barrett: I'm a big fan of historical horror and horror that goes back to the early days of America when settlers from Europe were still trying to figure this area out. That's so fascinating to me. It would be like us trying to go colonize Mars or something. All of the disease we's fascinating. I just like historical horror. I also love horror, like Adam was saying, that has a deep sense of mystery that provokes the imagination. A lot of movies either tell you too much and they leave nothing to the imagination so they're not scary, or they're too lazy and don't do enough to provoke your imagination. The Blair Witch Project did it perfectly.

Wingard: I always liked how the original film didn't feel like it was just about hauntings, the film itself felt haunted. There's a reason people believed the movie was real. You couldn't just go out and say just any movie, particularly any found footage movie, was real – even if it was the first to try that gimmick – and have people believe it. The reason they pulled it off is the movie is so authentic in that way. It feels almost dirty the first time you watch it. When it ends, you're questioning what happened. It actually feels like it's been cursed in this real, horror way. That's what drew me to it. What's your favorite new ingredient you added to the Blair Witch lore?

Barrett: We added a lot of things, we created a lot of ideas, but some are just extrapolations from the original. The idea that you can't look directly at whatever the Blair Witch is comes from just trying to find more of an explanation for why Rustin Parr always put one kid in the corner. I like that one a lot.

Wingard: I like that Simon managed to throw in an element of body horror into the movie, too. We've talked about this briefly in other interviews, but one of the cool things about the way this movie developed is we were already doing the V/H/S movies with a kind of kitchen sink approach to found footage horror, so Simon's first draft of the script was almost exclusively body horror. It was extremely gory and took a very different approach. Very little of that made it into the movie, it's just the right amount. It's just enough to whet your appetite with a 'What's going on what that? Is that related to the thing you're seeing out in the woods?' Hopefully that's just one of a few things people are going to piece together to come up with explanations. The GPS stuff is so specifically established, at some point was it a larger element later in the film?

Barrett: That's a very perceptive question. First of all, we established the GPS somewhat as an explanation for why they keep rolling, because the GPS is only on when the cameras are on, and that's how they'll find each other if they get lost. The number one initial hurdle of found footage is 'Why are they still filming?' And so far everyone seems to feel like we came up with a decent answer, because so far we haven't seen that comment about the film.

At one point we were talking about a creepy GPS scare, kind of like Aliens with the motion sensor.

Wingard: There was a set piece, or part of a set piece, that we cut out of the film that included the GPS of letting them watch someone kind of get whisked away on the GPS screen. Ultimately it didn't totally work. But it was important to acknowledge that if you go out into the woods, even if you're only half prepared, you're going to have a GPS with you. So we tried to front load the movie with answers to some of those questions. Even the question of who edited the movie, which comes up a lot in found footage movies, we immediately addressed it in the opening. It helps to say it's been edited. You don't need to say who edited it, but address it so that this stuff just isn't magically happening. Because this is a heavily edited film in the sense that it's very fast paced.

Barrett: Plus, so much of the first movie is spent arguing over a map that we felt like we had to have GPS in there. But we did find out actually doing scares with it wasn't the most successful thing. Maybe if we end up doing another one we can get our GPS set piece in. Did you guys hide things in the edit points or is that my imagination?

Wingard: Everything you see is in camera. The only CGI was used for paint outs or to add burn-ins for when people are looking at screens. Anything that's brief or in an odd way, that maybe you miss and your friend sees, you can compares notes. Within the glitches there are some things. There are points within it that foreshadow what's coming, kind of keeping with the time loop. When it comes out on Blu-ray I think people will have a lot of fun going, 'Oh, when you freeze frame this glitch, you can see what's going to happen to a character later on.'

When it comes to faces, one thing we tried to avoid...horror films these days are so reliant on jump scares from a creepy face being thrown at you. That's 100% what we're trying to avoid. There are people that do it very well. James Wan is the master, he's my favorite horror filmmaker right now, but we tried to make sure anything we are showing you is a bit more vague.

Barrett: I don't like boogeyman scaring the camera. The subliminal Exorcist face? We didn't want to do anything that on the nose. Plus, The Exorcist just did that really well. Watching the original Blair Witch Project, there is a scene where they intended to have something on camera but they just never filmed it. So you have Heather running through the woods saying 'What the f—k is that?'

Wingard: I could have sworn you saw something there. It wasn't until VHS that I realized there wasn't.

Barrett: I was like, 'I can't wait until video to find out what that is!' And there's nothing there. But that's just the magic of Blair Witch and that style. If you can get that intensity level, people will think you're throwing more at them than you are.



Categories: Features, Interviews, Horror
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