Exclusive: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett Talk Blair Witch, Making a Pure Horror Film, and the Franchise’s Future

Blair Witch

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a talk with director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett in anticipation of the release of Blair Witch (review), the duo’s latest collaboration. As long-time fans of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Wingard and Barrett are reasonably excited to share their own chapter of the franchise with the world.

Our very own Uncle Creepy was a fan of the film when he caught it at San Diego Comic-Con after it was surprisingly unveiled as a proper sequel to The Blair Witch Project, and I rather enjoyed it as well as a fan of the original and Wingard and Barrett’s past work. A refreshing take on the franchise, Blair Witch stays true to the roots of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s original film while also elevating the lore and scares in some very entertaining ways.

Check out what Wingard and Barrett had to say about their take on the Blair Witch, keeping their film a secret for so long, and what’s next for them below.

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On making a pure horror film…

Blair Witch arguably marks Wingard and Barrett’s first major foray into straightforward, feature-length horror, following beloved genre-bending films as The GuestYou’re Next, and A Horrible Way to Die that notably implemented elements of comedy and drama throughout otherwise traditional genre storiesWingard admits, “I mean, that’s the reason why we took this because […] we kind of had gone down this rabbit hole where everything that we did was this sort of genre-bending deconstruction exercise, and we kind of felt like if we did that again, it was… kind of like chasing your own tail to a certain degree.” 

Expressing a desire to make something that was “shit your pants kind of scary,” Wingard mentions the irony of admitting that this is their first traditional horror film. “Even though we’re known as horror filmmakers, we’ve never felt like we actually committed to just making a scary horror film, and so it was kind of already on our minds,” he says. “[When] the potential of being able to do a Blair Witch sequel came up […] we kind of jumped at it cause […] this is a perfect way to kind of do that.”

On keeping their secret sequel under wraps…

Despite some rumors that circulated when the trailer for Wingard and Barrett’s then-titled The Woods was released, 99% of horror audiences were caught completely by surprise when the film was revealed to actually be titled Blair Witch at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. For the most part, it seems that it was relatively easy for the director and screenwriter to keep their secret, given their history of being relatively tight-lipped about their work. Barrett explains, “Because we want the viewers of our films to have that element of surprise that I think we both ourselves enjoy a lot as film viewers and film fans, […] there was just kind of naturally an inclination in all of our past work to not really let people know what we’re making until we’re ready to show it to them.”

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t fears about the secret leaking, especially given the big studio nature of the film. “With this it became more intense because we were making a studio film, and there’s a lot of people at the studio,” Barrett says, “and so even at Lionsgate itself, people didn’t know what we were making except for just a small group of executives. […] Our casting directors didn’t know what we were making, and I was generating safe pages, with different words, all of the names changed and stuff. That was probably the hardest part, just doing that kind of work and kind of also just–at least for me–not even really believing that we were gonna be able to pull it off ‘cause someone’s assistant would be on the line on some phone call and someone was gonna say something.” 

On the catharsis of unveiling their film at San Diego Comic-Con and honoring the original film…

Wingard and Barrett kept their secret locked up tight until the film’s San Diego Comic-Con premiere, unveiling their surprise to a throng of horror fans who ultimately went wild over the news. This was exactly as they had hoped the reveal would play out. “We never said the words ‘Blair Witch’ really, almost ever in public conversation or anything,” Barrett says. “We just kind of… we knew that if it worked out and if we were able to surprise people that the announcement of this film would be a truly great thing and also honor the legacy of the original in some ways.”

Wingard notes that going under the moniker of The Woods for so long certainly contributed to the surreal nature of the title reveal even for the two of them. “Sometimes I still say The Woods,” he admits.

“Me too!” Barrett responds with a laugh.

Wingard adds, “It’s one of those things that is so deeply ingrained in us that […] even just now saying it, it’s almost weird. […] When we did the [San Diego Comic-Con] Q&A, I felt like… when I said it out loud, I was like, ‘Oh my god, did I really just do that?’ You know, it’s like a weird weight was lifted, but it felt funny.”

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On expanding the mythology of the Blair Witch…

Upon watching Blair Witch, viewers will certainly find many familiar elements that recall iconic moments from The Blair Witch Project, among a host of easter eggs. What works especially well in the new film, however, is the way in which Wingard and Barrett were able to expand upon the beloved lore about the Blair Witch and the Black Hills Forest and introduce new angles in their scares. “We really were able to approach this creative process as fans of the original,” Barrett says. “There were certain iconic things that everyone remembers from The Blair Witch Project–you know, the figure standing in the corner obviously, the stick symbols, the stones, Rustin Parr, Elly Kedward–certain legends that you still remember all these years later, even if you haven’t seen the film since it came out, I think. And those were the things that we knew, as fans, that fans would kind of want to see more of. Not necessarily to have explained but have extrapolated upon and utilized for scare sequences in a much more direct way than they were in the first film.”

Even when discussing how they have expanded upon the ideas presented in the first film, Barrett is quick to credit the original film for what it did very well. “The first film is 100% great at being authentic, and one of the ways it does that is that people just… there’s not a lot of exposition,” he says. “People will just kind of obliquely reference a legend and then move on in conversation; you don’t really know if it’s paid off. You know, the only thing that you really see in the first one paid off is Rustin Parr and the seven murders with the figure standing in the corner at the end. […] So I was like, ‘What was that about? Why is the person standing in the corner?’ We wanted to put the audience in the corner and things like that. So that was just… approaching it as fans, we kind of hopefully knew what the fans would want.”

On what’s ahead for the both of them and the Blair Witch franchise…

With various rumors circulating about what the duo’s next film will be, we wanted to be sure we got the latest in official news on their upcoming projects before wrapping up. “Simon and I have quite a few projects that we’re working on,” Wingard says. “Specifically, Simon’s got a fantastic script for a remake of I Saw the Devil that hopefully will go into production relatively soon on.” Wingard then starts to divulge something more. “And… I don’t know if I can talk about your other thing…” he says, giving Barrett a questionable look before Barrett unfortunately agrees that mum’s the word on that mystery project. Bummer.

Though no secrets were spilled, Wingard also threw out an update on his widely anticipated next film. “I just wrapped […] an adaptation of the anime Death Note literally like a day before [the] Toronto [International Film Festival]. I’m just fresh off that, so I go into editing in about two weeks to get started on that!” 

With Blair Witch introducing its titular villain to a new generation in a big way, it’s also reasonable that talks of more sequels at this point would be on the table. Would Wingard and Barrett be on board though? “Yeah, I mean, I think these kind of things always depend on the success of the film you’re making,” Wingard states. “If people come and see this Blair Witch movie in the theaters and it does well enough, then there’ll definitely be sequels and we’ll be involved in some sort of capacity.”

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Producer Jessica Wu, writer Simon Barrett, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, producer Keith Calder, director Adam Wingard, and James Allen McCune seen at Lionsgate’s Blair Witch screening at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, July 22, 2016, in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Lionsgate/AP Images)

We’d like to thank Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett for taking the time to chat with us! Don’t miss Blair Witch, which is now playing nationwide.

Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry, Corbin Reid, and Wes Robinson. Roy Lee (The Ring, The Grudge, The Strangers, It), Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious), Keith Calder, and Jessica Wu (You’re Next, The Guest) produce. If you haven’t already, check out the film’s poster and trailer below.

Synopsis:
A group of college students venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of James’ sister, who many believe is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch. At first the group is hopeful, especially when a pair of locals offer to act as guides through the dark and winding woods, but as the endless night wears on, the group is visited by a menacing presence. Slowly, they begin to realize the legend is all too real and more sinister than they could have imagined.

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