With A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next and The Guest, Adam Wingard established himself as one of horror’s hippest directors, expertly marrying the naturalism of mumblecore with the wigged out impulses of slasher movies and serial killer flicks. When trailers for his new film, The Woods, appeared earlier this summer it looked as if he was continuing in that vein with another gnarly and original horror film. But at San Diego Comic-Con in July he revealed this was all a ruse and he’d secretly been making an official sequel to The Blair Witch Project, the break-out low-budget horror phenomenon from 1999 that kick-started the now ubiquitous found footage trend. The ruse itself was a nifty way of paying tribute to the viral marketing campaign of the original movie and Wingard’s involvement was a promising sign that Blair Witch wasn’t going to be just another cash-in.
Sadly, for all the technical bravado he brings to it, it does feel more like a remix than an innovative follow-up, expanding the story just enough to justify its existence, but not really delivering much in the way of nerve-shredding terror. The latter is something that could be said about the original too, but back in 1999, the novelty factor and the use of emerging digital video technology sustained it, adding a creeping sense of dread that our increasing familiarity with this type of filmmaking has long since diminished. Wingard does at least attempt to make a virtue out of that last fact. The team of filmmakers he sends into the Black Hills Forest are equipped with all manner of wearable tech that eliminates the need to have conversations about filming while running for one’s life (and gives them a degree of bravado you just know isn’t going to serve them well). Leading those filmmakers is James (James Allen McCune), the now grown-up younger brother of doomed film student Heather, whose “disappearance” The Blair Witch Project documented. Having convinced himself she may still be alive after new footage of her appears on YouTube, he’s agreed to be the subject of a new doc that his film student girlfriend has roped him and his friends in to helping her make as part of her graduate thesis. That’s not a bad set-up, riffing as it does on the idea that our addiction to viewing everything through a lens these days has a distorting effect on our reality – something Wingard plays around with by adding a temporal element into the plot. Alas, when one character announces the group has been walking round in circles, it foreshadows a finalé that simply offers a more amped up version of everything we’ve seen before.
Blair Witch (15) ***
Hunt For The Wilderpeople (12A) ****
The Infiltrator (15) ***
The Clan (15) ****
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years (12A) **
There’s more woodland action in the new comedy from Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows). Sweet and defiantly unsentimental, Hunt for The Wilderpeople is set in New Zealand and revolves around a troubled, overweight foster kid (Julian Dennison) who goes on the run in the bush to avoid being sent to a juvenile detention centre after his new foster mum passes away suddenly. Teaming up with her curmudgeonly husband (Sam Neill) the mismatched duo are pursued through the wilderness by an obsessive social worker (Rachel House) whose unofficial “no child left behind” mantra has blinded her to what’s best for the kids she’s supposedly trying to help. Waititi keeps the jokes coming thick and fast, delivering hi-jinks and heightened characters with an emotional undertow that really resonates.
The Infiltrator is a bit of a curious beast: based on the true story of a US Customs official (Bryan Cranston) who went undercover as a billionaire money launderer to bring down a Colombian drug cartel linked to Pablo Escobar, the film is set in the 1980s, but looks and sounds like it was shot in the 1970s. It’s as if director Brad Furman has opted for grainy film stock and Scorsese-esque soundtrack choices to generate instant credibility, when really the story demands a more outré and flashier approach to convey the craziness of the times. Still, Cranston is eminently watchable as the in-too-deep cop risking his family life for the thrill of the job.
Argentine director Pablo Trapero’s The Clan is also set in the 1980s and also owes a debt to Scorsese, but this true-life tale of a suburban family that makes its living running a private kidnapping firm from their home is so strange and compelling it quickly transcends its influences. A huge hit in Argentina, the film has much more swagger than earlier Trapero films such as Carrancho, but it’s still infused with a searing socio-political edge as Trapero uses the activities of the Puccio clan to explore the aftermath of Argentina’s Dirty War and the transition from Fascism to capitalism.
If you ever wondered if nostalgia for the Fab Four could reach saturation point, Ron Howard’s new documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years provides the answer. The former Happy Days star turned director squanders reams of beautifully restored archival material and live recordings by contextualising them with some of the most banal commentary imaginable – mostly from celebrity fans. “John was surprisingly fearless,” drones Richard Curtis, in unintentional Rutles mode. “Paul was surprisingly cute. Ringo was cheeky and irresistible. And George was the one my sister fancied.” Erm, thanks for that guys