I recently posted my Top Ten Films of 2016, if you haven’t already you can check out my list here. I thought 2016 was behind me and I could move on to reviewing newly released titles. However after reflecting back on my disappointment in Blair Witch I felt obligated to do a quick review so you out there might avoid the boredom and frustration I experienced watching it. But instead I thought “Why not a Top 3 Worst Films of 2016”. Why not right? So while 2016 is still fresh in my memory…let’s get into it.
WARNING: THESE REVIEWS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
#3 The Forest ⭐️ ½
So full disclosure, what mainly drew me to this film was of course Game of Thrones’s Natalie Dormer who stars and plays the protagonist Sara Price [as well as her twin Jess Price]. I liked her character in GOT and wanted to root for her to get some good roles in at least some decent movies and start expanding her art. The Forest however was one huge miss and it sucks that its her first starring role outside of Game of Thrones. The premise of the movie isn’t bad as far as horror films go. The film is based on an actual forest referred to as Aokigahara [Also known as The Suicide Forest] located in Japan near Mount Fuji. Sara’s twin sister Jess has gone missing in the forest and Sara sets off to find her encountering terror and apparitions during her search. Good idea. The film however falls apart fairly quickly. Early in the film Sara meets an American journalist Aiden [Taylor Kinney] at a bar. As things go Aiden just happens to know a park guide and offers to help her find Jess. Their meeting is handled very sloppily, it feels forced and the dialogue doesn’t feel genuine. This immediately had me feeling concerned about the writing and my expectations that the film would offer anything new from the horror genre plummeted.
I won’t go into every plot detail but the film gives quite a few false scares [which I absolutely despise in horror movies and feel are over used] and the characters rationale and decision-making are completely nonsensical, typical for the genre. When it comes to horror movies I find that I can forgive a lot more than I do with dramas and even some action films. What I can’t forgive however is when a film gives no direct reason for what the audience is seeing/experiencing. There are some encounters in the film that are never really fully explained, not well enough at in my opinion. They seem to only serve to fill camera time.
Additionally I cannot forgive when a film leads the audience down one path and uses a characters mental state or an unpredictable or unseen force to simply wipe away the last 30-45 minutes that the audience has been accepting as truth and investing interest in. This is a terrible plot device and in my opinion the result of bad writing/the lack or an imagination. Now I will note this can be acceptable if done well in that the audience has been given reasonable clues to which will allow them to accept this turn of events, a good example is the infamous revelation that occurs in Fight Club. There are numerous instance that offer hints to the audience and honestly when done well it the payback for the audience for such as stunt is quite rewarding. The Forest does not handle this well. There are a few occurrences that take place only to find that it was all in Sara’s head and these are not trivial but important story altering situations.
The ending for The Forest is not satisfying at all. We find that Jess actually still is alive and is even rescued. How it is possible that Jess never ran into Sara the two nights she was present is ludicrous, as Sara spent a fair amount of the movie shouting and screaming often times for Jess. Also the fact she survived is questionable given the sinister things the audience is aware reside in the forest. Sara doesn’t make it out, she ends up a victim to her own mind which is troubled due to her families past and her demise comes about in the form of what can only be spirits of the forest that drag her screaming down into the earth, to remain as a spirit of forest. By the end of the movie I wasn’t sure what parts of the film were supposed to be true vs false or part of Sara’s imagination. I had no clue what significance some characters and apparitions played. And I didn’t feel any sympathy or connection to any of the characters. Honestly it was a film that could have been condensed down to a 15-30 minute short film and probably would have been easier for the audience to consume.
#2 Independence Day: Resurgence – ⭐️ ½
I was forced into watching this film by a friend, who will go unnamed, and whom to this day apologizes PROFOUNDLY for forcing this 2 hour life-sapping misery on me. 7 minutes into this movie I let out a huge sigh of “Dear God, what have we done.” as I watched Liam Hemsworth, with terribly executed acting and dialogue, save a moon station from an enormous laser canon falling on it. He does this by “catching” it with a spacecraft maybe 1/200th the size of the canon…😐. Imagine a house-fly catching a basketball and you’ll get the idea. This is all done of course with insubordinate theatrics which in turn pisses off his commanding officer, whose life he just saved, thus immediately marking Liam’s character, Jake Morrison, as the stubborn, badass, middle finger to authority, cliché action hero of the film. And this was just 7 minutes in and it didn’t get any better, if anything it got more absurd.
So I mentioned Moon station? That’s right, Resurgence takes place in the future where mankind has taken the technology from the alien craft left over from the first films epic final battle and developed new weaponry and machines through reverse engineering. With this new technology we have advanced leaps and bounds allowing us more efficient space travel which is how we have come to colonize the moon. Now I will admit this was an interesting plot development and there are many others introduce. We learn that in Africa many of the aliens survived and were hunted down by military and from this conflict different warlords and tribes have appropriated the alien technology for their own gain; a story line that could encompass an entirely separate film in itself. This all should have made for an interesting and captivating film. What we get instead is pretty much a rehash of the original film but with less connectivity. We hear similar one liners from the same actors [Much of the original cast is back: Jeff Goldblum as witty and sarcastic David Levinson, Judd Hirsch as Davids’ father Julius Levinson, Bill Pullman as an aging ex-President Whitmore, even Brent Spiner returns to reprise his role as Dr. Okun which is honestly the only good thing to come from this film [Spiner does an excellent job and I’m fairly certain he is the only actor aware of how campy this film is and he runs with it.]. There are numerous absurd last second rescues and plenty of explosions. What’s missing? Will Smith does not return as brash Captain Steven Hiller, Hemworth’s character fills in this void. What’s new? A ridiculously gigantic, almost planet size space ship. A new “Queen” alien that is also ridiculously gigantic, think Godzilla, driving previously mentioned spaceship [Come to think of it there are a lot of humongous things in this film; Humongous laser canons, humongous spaceships, humongous aliens…]. And new knowledge of a second alien race that was wiped out by the others [referred to as “Harvesters”]. This information is passed to Dr. Okun by a white sphere with artificial intelligence representing the extinct alien race and whose purpose is to evacuate humanity from the planet Earth to save us from the harvesters. Lots of moving pieces.
The film has many stories running side by side and as expected all leading to the culmination of an immense battle back on Earth. This battle includes the Queen actually coming off the ship and trampling around the desert searching for the spherical AI. The battle is dull and predictable, there are no real stakes felt. The last second rescues I mentioned earlier are also quite predictable. It’s also easy to notice that the timeline of the film is inconsistent. There is lots of traveling back and forth from space and across the planet and each time done within an unbelievably short time frame. Characters meet up at the same place at the same time when one has left from what should be a 2 hour flight and the other is coming from the Moon. But because the film does such a poor job and creating tension and drama I simply brushed most of these inconsistencies off because, “Who cares.” Nothing really comes as a surprise and I never felt anxious, not for a moment. I found myself just staring blankly at the screen pretty much waiting for it to be over.
The idea that this film is to be followed up by a third in the franchise that may take place in space or on another planet is interesting [It is implied at the end that with the knowledge given to us by the spherical AI we can now take the fight to the aliens]. But if ID42 is to be used as a baseline of what to expect as far as writing and editing than “Thanks, but no thanks”. ID42 was a disaster of a disaster film [If you can consider alien invasion a disaster]. Nothing felt new. Even though many of the same characters have returned there is the poor effort in getting the audience to reconnect with them and because of that it is difficult to feel like there are real stakes involved. What you feel after the 2 hour run time and the credits start rolling is a sense of relief that the mess on the screen has finally concluded along with a slight taste of bitter disappointment because the original film was an awesome thrill packed experience, something to be remembered. Now when I hear the phrase Independence Day it’s going to be difficult to not want to roll my eyes while be reminded of the 2 hours I wasted and taste again that bitter disappointment.
#1 Blair Witch – ⭐️
And so….we come to Blair Witch. I think what really pushes this film towards my #1 spot is the nostalgia and devotion I feel for the original Blair Witch Project. I thought it was genius and pure art. It brought something new to the horror genre and set the bar for what we can and should expect as fans of the genre. It proved a horror film could be terrifying without gore or makeup or monsters or special effects and it proved a horror film can be smart and clever. Honestly I don’t think there has been a film as unsettling to me since the Blair Witch. The closest would be The Witch, which happens to be in my Top 3 of 2016. The sequel that followed, Book of Shadows, on its own wasn’t a terrible movie but as a follow-up it was a wreck and did no justice at all to the original. 2016’s Blair Witch was no better, in fact much worse and betrayed everything that made the original so memorable and significant.
Like the original there aren’t many character to keep track of, just 6. The two main characters are James Donahue, played by James Allen McCune, and Lisa Arlington, played by Callie Hernandez. McCune, whom some of you may recognize from The Walking Dead series, plays the brother of Heather Donahue from the original film. The premise essentially revolves around Donahue and a group of friends venturing back into the woods of Burkittsville Maryland to find his sister. At the beginning of the film we view footage of someone running through an old worn down house [similar to that at the end of the original film] and see a figure who Donahue believes is his sister. He decides he wants to go there for closure and hopefully to find some answers as to what happened to Heather.
The most obvious issue with this storyline is his sister has been missing for 20 years and yet he still believes he can go randomly searching into the same woods that I would assume have already been scoured by law enforcement and search parties in the hopes that he will find her alive or some missing clue to her whereabouts or fate. Noble? Yes. Smart? No.
Blair Witch like the original is a lost footage film. So we get plenty of shaky cam, bad angles and of course people nonsensically continuing to carry around a camera when all hell is breaking loose and when most rationale people would ditch the camera and book it out of harms way. The trailer looked promising but unfortunately they get everything wrong that the original film did right. There is no building up of tension as strange occurrences happen and the characters slowly break down mentally from fear and exhaustion. Instead everything pretty much happens over the course of two nights. Also unlike the original where we actually never see characters attacked or hurt directly, in this installment characters are seen being dragged off camera, there are some shadowy figures seen, there are people heard being killed directly off camera and even at one point we get a shot of what is supposed to be the Blair Witch. What was originally a horror film meant to play on each individual viewers own fears, imagination and psyche has now been turned into what feels like a low rate monster or slasher flick. It might as well be Jason Voorhees off camera hacking these kids up.
One quite annoying thing I have to mention is the film trying to explain the reason why we see Mike near the end of the original film facing the wall [Something that is mentioned in the mythology and lore of the Blair Witch and Rustin Parr]. Apparently the Witch does not like being watched while she does…whatever it is she does and she will do you no harm as long as you don’t look at her. Two of the characters get trapped in a room with what we assume is the witch and use this to their advantage. The whole idea is silly and makes even less sense when you consider how many of the characters die without actually looking at whatever it was that attacked them [Much of the footage is from first person view]. But most importantly it takes away from the fear and mystery of the Blair Witch. Some things are better left unknown so that we as viewers can fabricate our own dreadful explanations formed from our own imagination and worst fears.
There are some positive things that can be noted such as how it is implied that time doesn’t move at a normal pace in the woods, this was an interesting twist and it would have been nice to see it expanded upon and used more effectively. Also there was one scene that did give me a good jump and I must admit was clever and done well. One character Ashley grabs one of the hanging stick figures and snaps it in half and in turn we see another character Talia also snap backwards. It was very disturbing and eerie to see, if only the whole film was handled as well. Aside from these though the rest of the movie is a bore. The pacing and flow of the story is tedious. The writing and dialogue is uninspiring. Character run about aimlessly and make unwise and senseless decisions.The overuse of shaky cam is just as annoying and disorienting as it ever is. The film is unexceptional in every way possible.
I know it is tempting to want to watch this film in the hopes of experiencing the same excitement and thrills that you got from original but I would highly recommend you skip it, don’t waste your time or money. Take my word for it, if you were a fan of the original Blair Witch Project you will find no enjoyment here. Plus not watching it will keep your memory and impression of the original intact preserving that nostalgia.
So three films of 2016 that I would highly recommend you avoid…unless you’re the type who gets a good laugh watching a terrible film, I know I have been known to get a little enjoyment it. Below is a recap with a few honorable mentions. Feel free to leave a comment, I am sure there will be some who disagree with my choices, I’ve had plenty of conversations regarding at least two of my honorable mentions.
Top 3 Worst Films 2016:
#1 Blair Witch ⭐️
#2 Independence Day: Resurgence ⭐️½
#3 The Forest ⭐️½
Honorable Mentions: The Shallows ⭐️⭐️, Passengers ⭐️⭐️, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ⭐️⭐️, Deadpool Trailer ¼