Blair Witch (2 stars) What made the original Blair Witch Project such a hit was that it was the first of its kind. Since its release in 1999, it’s been superseded by a host of other horror filmmakers coming in our wake who’ve overdone the found footage concept since it came out of the woods.
Filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (The Guest, You’re Next) are a capable duo who’ve proven they can stir the cinematic cauldron by destructing genres. With that in mind, it was easy to get behind a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, especially considering Wingard and Barrett have such a unique style that would greatly benefit the world of scary witches in the woods.
While the filmmakers expand on the myth of the witch and include an ending that’s perhaps the sole reason to watch this film, the simply titled Blair Witch is a massive disappointment for fans of the original and horror in general.
A direct sequel to the first film, Blair Witch picks up with the story of the younger brother (James Allen McCune) of one of the original missing documentarians. He becomes convinced his sibling may still be alive somewhere in the woods and ventures to the spot with some friends (Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott) to get some answers. Obviously, things go wickedly wrong.
Unlikable idiot characters, cheap jump scares (primarily characters walking up unannounced and branches breaking in the distance) and a misuse of modern technology are just a few of the ingredients to this dreck that has Smokey the Bear wanting to let this forest just burn.
Extras: An audio commentary with Wingard and Barrett, a six-part making-of documentary and an exploring-the-set featurette.
Denial (3 stars) Based on the case David Irving vs. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, the film follows professor Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) defending herself in a libel case against David Irving (Timothy Spall) in front of London’s High Court of Justice. The libel stems from Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust, which studies those who deny the existence of the Holocaust.
In this book, she calls Irving — a renowned Holocaust denier and Hitler enthusiast — a fraud and a liar. In 1996, Irving brought this case to court in order to argue the Holocaust on an international stage, where the press is there to fuel the fire. Filing the case in London allows for the burden of proof to fall on the defendant. While Lipstadt is more than willing to take him head on, her legal team — led by barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) — will instead find holes in Irving’s work as their case.
Written by David Hare (The Reader, The Hours) and directed by Mick Jackson (Temple Grandin), the best parts of Denial are those involving procedural tactics, such as Lipstadt and Rampton visiting Auschwitz, or arguing that pragmatism triumphs over emotion. However, it can’t ever escape the feel of a TV movie, with a lot of emphasis on Howard Shore’s score to dampen possible impact. The majority of the actual case is shown in various ways to expedite the proceedings, which leaves the pacing disjointed — such as showing only two key witnesses where there were five or six in the actual trial.
But, in a sense of juxtaposition, the emotion is the point. Weisz and Co. do well to showcase their characters without going overboard, and sometimes in spite of the script (America and Britain are different!). The purpose of the movie is to showcase an argument of history and how it can be manipulated as a way to attain notoriety. Looking at what is going on around us today, Denial is something we have all seen and been disgusted by. This message is more important to the viewer than the story.
Rated R, 119 minutes.
Extras: A making-of and the theatrical trailer.
Also available on DVD and streaming: Bones: Season 11, Girls: Season 5, The Librarians: Season 2, The Monkey King 2, Mars (2016) and Sleepy Hollow: Season 3.