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Image: Lionsgate

Image: Lionsgate

Blair Witch is a jump-scare machine. Built for maximum efficiency, it cranks out shocks with spooky precision. Wisely dispensing with any pretense to fan service—the franchise’s villain was always lame—director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett use every trick in the book to pound their audience into submission. It’s an exhausting experience.

And it’s also a smart one, too. Almost a generation after The Blair Witch Project introduced the phrase “found footage” into the lexicon, an entire subgenre and filmic grammar have built upon the rules it established. The newest entry breaks down and examines those rules and uses the language of digital transmissions as the groundwork. It moves in near constant fits and starts, invoking the inherent spookiness of HDTV broadcast stutter.

That doesn’t mean it’s intellectually engaging. This is lizard-brain stuff, the kind of thing that’s fueled on atavism. Next to stuff like Green Room and Don’t Breathe, Blair Witch is paper thin. Still, this franchise has always been slight. Wingard and Barrett are responsible for You’re Next and The Guest, some of the best genre movies of the last few years. One gets the feeling that their talents would be better served with better material.

Blair Witch. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, and Brandon Scott. Opens in Kansas City September 16, 2016.

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