Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.

posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.


Hannibal – Season 2, Episode 4: “Takiawase”

NBC’s Hannibal
Season 2, Episode 4
: “Takiawase”
Directed by David Semel (The StrainAmerican Horror Story)
Written by Bryan Fuller & Scott Nimerfro

* For a review of the previous episode, “Hassun” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mukozuke” – click here
IMG_0898 IMG_0896 IMG_0921Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is living more of the memories he wants to at the beginning of the episode, in a river somewhere with Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl); though, it is most certainly a dream. Their conversation is a metaphor about the hunt – for the Nightmare Stag, the Nightmare Man.
Will is starting to remember bits and pieces about what has happened to him, more with every session alongside Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza). Luckily for Will, the thought of any kind of fame drives Chilton to a frothing mouthful. So essentially Graham uses him to help progress his knowledge of what Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) did to him, as the encephalitis was wreaking absolute havoc on his brain, memories, and his body is breaking down.
With a bit of drugs, Chilton sends Will back to a moment where Hannibal is injecting him, using a flashing light to induce the appropriate reactions – appropriate at least insofar as naughty Dr. Lecter is concerned. This is an excellent visual scene, as often there is in the series. We get to watch Will flash back and forth between past, present, and the memories start to come to a head at the edges of his brain. Again in this episode, Will scratches and claws his way closer to the truth. Later in the episode, he remembers fully the conversation between Hannibal Lecter and Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) from Season 1, when he’d been having a mild seizure, unaware of what was going on; at least at the time.
Unfortunately for poor Will Graham, there are other, much darker things happening in “Takiawase” than simply his memories coming back.

Will (to Chilton): “Do not discuss me or my therapy with Dr. Lecter.
IMG_0918 IMG_0919 IMG_0920Bella Crawford (Gina Torres) is seriously considering taking her own life. She does not want to die at the wish of her cancer. Bella wishes to end life on her own terms, instead of succumbing to death at the hands of her illness. While filled with curiosity, as always, Dr. Lecter tries to assuage Bella’s suicidal feelings. While most likely not getting all the way through to her, Hannibal – a serial killer cannibal of all people to be telling her this – expresses how the fear of death is not simply fear: it is also life. This is so in the sense that realizing death is always knocking, maybe waiting at the other side of each and every, any, door, this helps us appreciate life and all it has to offer: good food, good wine, good friends, good music, et cetera. It’s a weird, beautiful moment. One of my favourites out of all the scenes in Lecter’s office.
IMG_0922For what I call the Killer of the Week, we’ve got a real treat of a guest star in “Takiawase” – the ever weird and wonderfully talented Amanda Plummer, well-known for her role alongside Tim Roth as his Honey Bunny Yolanda in Pulp Fiction, and I also know her well personally from the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things.
It’s incredible, the character Plummer plays – Katherine Pimms, homeopathic healer. The crimes are so nasty and interesting!
Here we’ve got a woman whose first victim found is a man she converted into a working beehive, one filled with bees mining honey and working away. Then we later see her giving another man a nice, old fashioned prefrontal lobotomy; nice ones, like they did in the Golden Days for the mad men and women in the asylums. Good ole tap tap tap with the tiny little pick, right at the corner of the eye, and BAM – takes away all those silly things like motor skills, reactions, and many other activities of the human body. She leaves this man wandering out in the park, the sun shining into the holes of his head.

Katherine: “I didn’t kill him. I quieted his mind, so that he could die peacefully.
IMG_0935 IMG_0936 IMG_0916The most incredible thing about this episode is how the Killer of the Week, once again as usual, plays into the thematic elements of the plots and the situations in which the characters find themselves.
For instance, you’ve got Amanda Plummer playing this woman who is, albeit misguidedly, trying to ease the suffering of others, by helping them ease back into nature through death. All the while you’ve got Jack Crawford worrying about his wife Bella, who seems to want to slip away into death quick as she possibly can, but he is not so quick to let her go. This resonates with him, the crimes of this killer, because he sees her as a personification of evil: a doctor doing wrong.
IMG_0941 IMG_0940 IMG_0942 IMG_0943This brings us to the other half of the amazingness happening here. When Hannibal saves Bella from taking her life before the cancer can do anything further, this juxtaposes this killer, for whom Jack has contempt, with Hannibal directly. Just another way in which Hannibal Lecter is able to now stay in the blind spot, right out of the way of Jack’s clever vision. So I love how this episode’s killer plays such a direct role in exemplifying what’s happening in the life of Jack, Bella, as well as Hannibal.
IMG_0926 IMG_0927 IMG_0928I have to take another timeout from just generally recapping and reviewing the plot/themes, and so on.
We really need to speak of the sound design, the score, the visuals, all together as one cohesive and gorgeous unit which brings forth an impressive universal aesthetic to the Hannibal series. One that sets it apart from everything else on television. Honestly, the aesthetic of the series sets it apart from every series that’s ever been. Many great hour-long drama style shows have went for beautiful looks – The Sopranos had a great atmosphere especially in the last 3-4 seasons, Mad Men though I don’t dig it has wonderful style, and Breaking Bad had both a grit and beauty to it at so many points, these are only but a few – but there’s ultimately something so fresh, innovative, and completely different about Hannibal that the series stands heads above the rest of television. Meanwhile, it’s on NBC, which still surprises me, and I continually believe that’s part of why it is being cancelled; wrong network for this show to end up on. But either way, added to the Bryan Fuller & Co. adaptation of Red Dragon and Hannibal by Thomas Harris, the score and sound design, the visuals, they make for immersive, visceral television, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Nothing else, for me, compares to this.
IMG_0930 IMG_0931 IMG_0932Will: “Stay away from Hannibal Lecter
Beverly: “The Chesapeake Ripper kept surgical trophies. If Hannibal’s the Ripper what’s he doing with his trophies?
Will: “He’s eating them

When Will finally comes to the realization Hannibal is a cannibal, it is incredibly moving! What a disturbing moment. He flashes back to the breakfast they’d had one day, one of the many, and a look of disgust runs across Graham’s face. It’s just perfectly nasty.
What’s worse is that Will sort of sent Beverly in, not knowing enough, and that’s what leads her to where she heads at the end of “Takiawase”.
It’s tragic what happens to Beverly Katz.
Or at least, we’re pretty sure something bad will happen. Of course it’ll be until the next episode before we, as the viewers, truly find out. However, safe to say that on his home turf, not to mention in the dark after he flicks off the lights quickly before darting into the shadows, Hannibal has an ideal upper hand.
IMG_0945 IMG_0946 IMG_0947 IMG_0949 IMG_0948Regardless, soon as I could see Hannibal sniffing out Will’s influence over Katz, that she was still going to him for help, I could see there was some sort of confrontation between the two brewing. Whether it would be a big one or not, I was never sure. Now it’s one of those super tense, suspenseful situations. The final moments of “Takiawase” had me on edge. I love the way Semel shot those bits because it built up so well, as is usual for this series. Left things on an exciting cliffhanger, which isn’t always the case at the end of every episode – not that the endings are bad, they are not at all, though it isn’t typical for many episodes to end on a true cliffhanger. I dig this and it made me want to just jump right into the following episode, “Mukozuke”.
IMG_0950There are a ton of things to love about the fourth episode out of Hannibal‘s Season 2.
One scene, in particular, that I have to mention is when Jack and Bella get stoned together, toking up on her medicinal marijuana. It’s not simply because they’re silly together for a moment, getting high, it just shows this beautiful scene where two married people – surely helped by the fact Fishburne and Torres are together in real life – break down a terrible situation, bare to the bones, and talk about it, truthfully, out in the open. It’s a hard, raw conversation, especially for Jack because he’s clearly trying to be supportive yet no one wants to hear their loved one talk about how they feel like a burden; all the while, Jack knows the underlying issue, that Bella wants to die. Yet as he always does, Jack pushes. He’s not alienating Bella, however, he’s not helping either. He cares too much, is Jack’s problem in the end; about his wife, about Will, about the job. Crawford has a heart that is too big, and a head too stubborn.
IMG_0934 IMG_0938Before I finish, I have to mention how awesome both Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams are, as a sort of half comic relief half procedural pairing in the forensics department of things. I’ve always loved Thompson from his days as a Kid in the Hall, but here he gets to show off more than simply comedy chops; he really strikes me as a guy who knows what he’s talking about, as he plays the character of Jimmy Price. Same goes for Abrams, playing Brian Zeller. They’re too nerdy forensic scientists who love their nasty job, which is fun and interesting at times. Their rapport both together and with Laurence Fishburne works incredibly well and adds a little levity to the grim, macabre Hannibal universe.

The next episode, as I’ve mentioned, is titled “Mukozuke” and is directed by series regular Michael Rymer; he has also directed episodes of American Horror StoryThe Killing, and Battlestar Galactica, as well as the film Queen of the Damned based off of the works of Anne Rice.
Stay tuned, my fellow Fannibals! #SaveHannibal

Hannibal – Season 3, Episode 2: “Primavera”

NBC’s Hannibal
Season 3, Episode 2:
Directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)
Written by Bryan Fuller & Jeff Vlaming

* For a review of the next episode, “Secondo” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Antipasto” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.03.32 PMIf I have any complaints about Season Three’s second episode, “Primavera”, it’s that there is a lot of time spent on going over the end of Season Two’s finale. Not that it takes up a huge chunk of the episode, I just feel like going over it again (the moment when Hannibal opens Will up and leaves him to die), only in greater detail, doesn’t do much for me personally. I do like how Will is coming out of his coma, he tries to figure out what has been going on.
Regardless of my small complaint, “Primavera” is a pretty damn good episode coming out of the season opener.
The thing I like most about this second episode is how all the focus is on Will, whereas the first episode centred on Hannibal. I find it works really well with the heart motif, the bloody human-shaped heart Hannibal leaves after the first episode – Will finds the heart, looks it over. So the first two episodes are almost like two halves of the heart, which is what I found interesting. There’s clearly a love between the two men, though not sexual it is something like brotherhood, understanding, even if it is completely sick and twisted at its root. This heart, under the the direction of Vincenzo Natali also later takes terrifying form – it unfolds and creeps towards Will, who sees it for what it truly is: a sign that Hannibal has most certainly tucked himself away somewhere in Italy.
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.05.15 PMOnce more, the visuals of Hannibal prevail. There is amazing stuff here in this episode.
A shot of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) beginning to drown in a wave of blood is incredible. It also sort of parallels a shot of Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) from Episode One of this season where she is in the bath and imagines herself slipping under, down into a bottomless pool; she sinks uncontrollably, down, down. Here it’s the same, as Will gets completely swallowed by a sea of blood, sinking further to the bottom, if there even is one. I’m sure this is partly because Natali directed “Antipasto” as well, but either way, striking imagery to have in this episode.
Furthermore, the whole episode is a bloodbath. With the moments of Will dying, then Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl) getting her throat cut, the heart, there is just scene after scene of sanguine frenzy. I love it, but I can absolutely see how some TV watchers on a Thursday night might not be into seeing Hannibal come on their set. I don’t know, I’m not one of those people. The horror in this series is unparalleled for television, as far as I’m concerned. You can love The Walking Dead all you want (I do), it does not hold a candle to Hannibal.
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.03.52 PMAs we push on forward through Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Harris, there are more excellent changes, or switches as they might better be called.
For instance, I like the interactions between Will Graham and Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino). As well as the 8 month time jump, which puts a little distance between the events of Season Two and Season Three. In the novel Hannibal, as well as Ridley Scott’s film adaptation, it’s Clarice Starling on the police side of things who deals with Pazzi. So to see Will and Rinaldo as characters together is interesting, especially seeing as how the latter gives Graham time to have a look at the crime scene where the big human-sized heart is found. Pazzi recognizes that Will is not there in any official capacity, but simply he is looking for Hannibal.
Then we’ve got the whole plot of Pazzi who has been looking for Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence – none other than Hannibal Lecter (in the book Harris doesn’t explicitly say Hannibal is Il Mostro but people think he hints at this). The show makes clear Hannibal was Il Mostro, in the series timeline. They’d crossed paths earlier in life, when Hannibal was younger. Pazzi encountered the young man at the Uffizi Gallery, admiring Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting Primavera (none other than the episode’s title – doubling for some cooking and painting). Interesting twist to add in. Adds some tension to the Pazzi story here, makes his character and the character of Hannibal a little fuller. There’s something even more frightening about the Lithuanian cannibal after seeing Pazzi’s long ago encounter. Hannibal has clearly affected many, many people, continuing to do so wherever he seems to move.
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.04.47 PMIt has a habit of sticking to you,” Pazzi tells Will, as he walks away to let Graham have time alone with the crime scene. Then we fade a little, a heartbeat slowly pulsing (sound design is another amazing aspect to this series as a whole). Will goes back into the crime scene, and it’s gruesome, as well as amazing. Not only does the thing unfold and come at him, there’s just a few shots that Vincenzo Natali puts in that are so weird and at the same time perfect; the slicing of the meat, the folding. It’s such a strange scene. Natali was really the director for this episode, the first one too, but most of all “Primavera”. Once that heart unfolds and comes at Will, I thought I was going to flip. Great and horrific stuff.
But it also goes to show how Will and Hannibal are so intimately, as well as intricately, linked together as a whole. Like I said before, they are two halves to that heart. While Hannibal knows this fully, he embraces it, the concept is still something that Will Graham is not totally comfortable with. After freaking out, he laughs and shakes, sweating: “I do feel closer to Hannibal here.
It’s easy to see how wounded Will still is because he isn’t just the same old Will – yes, he’s seeing things, nothing out of the ordinary. It’s his time with Abigail throughout the episode which truly shows the damage. SPOILER ALERT! TURN BACK OR Y’ALL GONNA GET SPOILED: when we finally figure out (I’m sure lots guessed it) that Abigail has been dead the whole time and Will is hallucinating her presence in Italy with him, it’s devastating. You can see how lost Hannibal has spun Will, out into an ocean of blood and the sea of his own mind. The moment Abigail’s throat opens and the blood spills out, there’s this look on Will’s face that is perfect. Great, quality acting on the part of Hugh Dancy.
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.04.25 PMIt’s the last bits of “Primavera” which work wonders.
Will heads down into the lower levels of the building where Lecter left the bloody heart for him. Down in the darkness, Will steps slowly, as he can feel the presence of Hannibal there, somewhere in the absence of light. As Hannibal begins to leave, Will whispers to him: “I forgive you.
Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.06.22 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.06.31 PM

What I love is the relationship between these two, how it lingers, how neither of them can seem to wash the other off. Hannibal needs Will as much as Will feels he needs Hannibal. It’s a perpetual cycle of acceptance – they accept the worst in one another and it is a fulfilling, if not dangerous, violent, and macabre relationship. Here, we see how willing Will is to let someone as dangerous and disturbed as Hannibal back into his life, at least in some kind of way. There’s a sickness each of these men suffer from, and neither of them do the other any favours by spurring on the inner demons which lurk in them both.
The closing of this episode got me way too excited for the rest of this season; and it’s only the second episode!

Stay tuned again for more reviews. Next week’s episode is “Secondo”, episode 3, so come back and we’ll talk more Hannibal, from one Fannibal to another.
Again again again – I hate to see this cancelled. Amazing show that needs at least one more season to cauterize properly without letting fans down totally. Shame, NBC, for doing such a disservice to the fans of this show! Sure you care about ratings, but this has a strong, loyal, loving fanbase. Sad to see this go after Season Three winds down.