After months of waiting, Blair Witch is finally out on blu-ray, so it's time to restart the hunt for secrets! Sadly, it looks like the mystery dies along with the franchise...
SPOILERS for Blair Witch (2016) and it's commentary track!
"To us, the Blair Witch isn't necessarily something that you ever really could show. You know, it's something much older...We kind of thought that people were going to interpret this film a lot of different ways, and we were trying to leave a lot of mystery to it. But of course, um, what we actually discovered is that if you call your movie 'Blair Witch,' anything you show, everyone is just going to assume you're actually showing the Blair Witch, and uh, and then they're going to be annoyed about that."
The Blair Witch blu-ray comes with a commentary track featuring director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barret, so naturally I listened to it expecting insights into the film akin to the above quote. Sadly, it seems that the commentary was recorded shortly after the film flopped, which not surprisingly, isn't the best timing.
Had they sat down and discussed the movie prior to the opening, perhaps we would have heard a tired, but excited conversation packed with cryptic hints about what's really happening in the woods. If they recorded the commentary a month or two after the disappointing reception, maybe we'd have a subdued, measured talk about what their intentions were. Unfortunately, having just experienced what must have felt like the death of an exciting project, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are not just tired and subdued, they're kind of angry.
That's not to say that they don't offer any intriguing information. Though a substantial amount of the commentary is filled with references to how much people hated the film, there are some real conversations about the way they approached crafting the story and world.
When the characters first enter the woods, there was an element cut that Adam Wingard believes would have given context to what we're seeing. Lead character James and conspiracy-theorist Lane were originally scripted to debate the origins of the Blair Witch legend. The idea was that, like any other urban legend, there are multiple interpretations of the Witch's story, and as a result, no one truly knows which tale is correct, if any. If this sounds familiar, it may be because I pinpointed this as the central idea of the movie months ago. The creature we see in this movie is not necessarily what everyone calls "The Blair Witch."
Sadly, every time Wingard and Barrett come close to revealing information, they pull away.
"By the way, I don't think it ever occurred to even you or I that people would think that we were actually showing the Blair Witch in this movie, and I will say really quickly, you know, again I don't want to explain anything, but we're hinting in a couple ways about how the Blair Witch...gets the sacrifices needed to keep the hunting going. And you have kind of Lane who's maybe having bit of a Rustin Parr experience, and then Ashley's obviously undergoing a very different kind of transformation..And you know we thought we were, uh..."
"...We're never going to make a sequel to explain any of this shit..."
This, in a nutshell is the commentary. For a moment you're given a peek behind the curtain, only for someone to yank the curtain shut on you. Again, this was the worst possible time to record a commentary, and the listener suffers for it.
It's worth mentioning that Wingard and Barret obviously have a sense of humor, and by no means am I suggesting they were exclusively bitter. Of course they sound frustrated, but it seems likely that even if they were in the best of moods, they wouldn't put all their cards on the table. Surely the commentary would still feature a lot of vague references to interesting secrets, but the way it comes across feels like they're actively punishing the listener for caring. If I were one of the guys, I'd think this was hilarious. But, well, I'm not.
Towards the end of the commentary, it's mentioned that Blair Witch apparently contains hidden subplots that you need to have some familiarity with the occult to understand. My frustration immediately turned back into the sort of thirsty intrigue that this franchise provokes in me, and with that one cryptic mention of the occult, I feel compelled to re-watch the film on the lookout for any signs of rituals, sacrifices, or who knows what else. (Note to self: learn as much about the occult as possible.)
One of the most surprising revelations on the commentary track was not about the lore of the world, but rather about how one of the set pieces was accomplished.
The tunnel was real.
Callie Hernandez, who plays Lisa, was made to crawl though an actual tunnel, designed to be just too tight for her. According to the filmmakers, not only were there no escape hatches of any kind, she was sharing the space...her stunt-double climbed in behind her, while in front of her was a replacement camera operator, as the previous camera guy had suffered a panic attack! Hello nightmares!
Impressively, Wingard and Barrett comment on how Blair Witch does not feature any CGI beyond simple touch-ups to backgrounds. The creatures we see? All practical. A great deal of effort was put into making sure that anything shown would stand up under scrutiny of freeze-framing and gif-making, and having just tried to catch clear images of the monster in the house, I have to compliment them on a job well done.
"It could be Elly Kedward. It could be anyone else whose caught up in the haunting."
At a certain point, Barret and Wingard mention that because Blair Witch won't be receiving a green light for a sequel, the character of Peter will remain stuck in Rustin Parr's house forever. According to them, he never died in the film, and now we'll never see what happened to him. This would suggest that a sequel to Blair Witch might feature Peter as the lead, which could have been interesting. Might we have seen Peter end up somewhere in another era, another victim of the time-displacement shenanigans in the woods? Could we have had a non-found-footage film where he meets Elly Kedward and watches as she's kicked out of town and supposedly turned into the witch? Sounds like we'll never know.
The film of course ends with James and Lisa in the attic of Rustin Parr's house. For a moment, blinding light fills the room, leading many to theorize online about UFO's, time-warping, and more. What do Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have to say?
"You know what, you're not going to get an explanation for these lights. Because you didn't come see this movie opening weekend, so now you're going to have to fucking wonder what's going on out there."
"No Sequels. No Answers."
Again, I find it unlikely that they would have spilled the beans no matter what their mood was, but it comes across as a punishment. Additionally: I was there opening weekend, guys. Hit me up on Twitter and tell me everything.
"Now you'll never see Blair Witch 4 where we show the toilet in the house, which is the only thing you haven't seen yet. Rustin Parr's toilet."
Seriously guys, I like your movie! I'm not even bitter that I wasn't sent one of those sweet promo boxes! Just explain the lights and DM me a picture of Rustin Parr's toilet and we're cool.
Just remembered one of my favorite promotional things Lionsgate did for Blair Witch was to mail these cryptic boxes to critics pic.twitter.com/iWvcAsI8iB January 3, 2017
To be honest, after listening to the commentary, my interest in Blair Witch as a film has increased, regardless of how the creators feel. Having also watched the other features on the disc, I know that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett approached reviving the franchise from a place of absolute respect for the original, and excitement at the prospect of contributing new ideas to the old story. Personally I feel like they totally nailed it, as Blair Witch feels like a proper sequel and a springboard for new stories to continue investigating the creature(s) in the woods, all the while deconstructing the way we create myths to explain the unexplainable.
There were never going to be concrete answers on the commentary, but I'm satisfied with the information they did provide, especially as it seems to support my own theories as to the meaning of the film.
To their credit, Wingard and Barrett seem to know I care, as evidenced by their sign off as the credits roll:
"If you're still listening to us speaking at this point, um, obviously then you're probably a fan of the film, and uh, and so thank you for listening to us, and uh, obviously uh...We're sorry."
"We're sorry that you won't be able to see any more sequels to this film. You may be a fan, but you probably didn't show up on opening weekend, and uh, and we're still bitter about that."
"We're still angry about that. We made everyone's second least-favorite Blair Witch film. Good night."
What do you think? Did you pick up the disc? Leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter to talk it out! Do you wish that blu-rays still had secrets in the menu like DVD's did? I checked anyway, but I guess that's not the way things are done anymore!