In 2012, a documentary film crew set off into the woods outside Fawnskin, Washington, to investigate a series of brutal killings known as the Black Water Murders.
… A year later their footage was found.
Christ on a bike, did these kids learn nothing from The Blair Witch Project?!? ‘Cos Black Water Vampire’s writer sure did.
Back in 1999, promising young filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez unleashed the Blair Witch Project on unsuspecting cinema-goers. Their ingenious little fright flick purported to be genuine ‘recovered footage’ from a real documentary shoot that unwittingly uncovered something startlingly paranormal. Of course it was all faker than a three dollar bill, but the film was a runaway success and, suddenly, a whole generation of filmmakers realised they didn’t need a big pile of money or even much discernible talent to get a movie made. All they needed was a script, a camera, and the flimsy pretence that the horror being captured was 100% real. And so, the ‘found footage’ genre exploded faster than you could say ‘Candid Camera meets Godzilla!’
Fifteen years on, Tinseltown continues to churn out these films to varying degrees of success. However, for every senses-shattering Paranormal Activity, we get an inevitable, Direct-to-DVD Paranormal Entity, and found footage fatigue is slowly setting in. Yet as long as these films continue to make money and for as long as filmmakers can find ways to keep the formula fresh, the studios will keep pumping them out.
Herein lies the problem with writer-director Evan Tramel’s feature debut, Black Water Vampire – despite being competently made, the film owes such a debt to Blair Witch it’s too hard to ignore. Going far beyond simple homage, the two films are so similar in both plot and execution, that it’s tempting to dismiss the whole project as a shameless, soulless rip-off.
John had spilled the jam again
Thankfully, Tramel’s script, though far from inspired, manages to blend in enough original ideas to keep things watchable. However, the most entertaining part of experiencing Black Water Vampire undoubtedly comes from counting the myriad ways it steals from Myrick and Sanchez’s 1999 hit. Watch with beer and our patented MovieBoozer drinking games, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed great night in!
One of the reasons Blair Witch succeeded in scaring the bejeesus out of audiences was in the believability of its’ stars’ haunting, subtle performances. Here, Danielle Lozeau, as group leader Danielle, brings a solid enough acting pedigree, with over 50 credits in the likes of Legion and The Eye, but her wide-eyed, theatrical performance is a little too studied and well-rehearsed to work. Her travel companions, too, also feel too much like standard horror movie ‘types’ (babe/geek/sleazy douchebag) to create any illusion of plausibility.
Blair what? No, never heard of it, honest…
This is a real shame, as a Blair Witch-esque series of mock talking head interview vignettes that pepper the film feature some excellent naturalistic performances from what appear to be genuine Black Water locals. One bedraggled fellow, who appears a few sandwiches short of a picnic, recalls an urban legend about a creature with rows of ‘rat teeth,’ so fascinating you kind of wish the whole film just followed him instead. Scenes with the victim’s family are wonderfully reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s uber-bleak death row documentary Into The Abyss. It’s sad, as just as Tramel begins to build a compelling, slow-burn narrative, he abandons this format in favour of more traditional found footage chills and the film never really recovers.
As is often the case in this genre, the illusion of realism is spoiled by the characters insistence on filming absolutely everything. Whether the team are running around screaming, arguing, or just wandering aimlessly, the camera never seems to go off, making you wonder just what kind of film they’re making – a documentary about idiots squabbling, perhaps?
Why would you film this?
Conversely, for all its claims to realism, Black Water curiously lacks those genuine, naturalistic moments that contribute to the supposed authenticity of a successful found footage fright flick. There is a distinct lack of the ‘smile for the camera!’, general mucking about that normally occurs when ordinary people get a hold of a camcorder. The film’s mid-section sags quite horribly, with endless scenes of the gang wandering through the snow-covered woodlands, where very little happens a la Blair Witch. Despite the crew’s terrified reactions, there is no way that Tramel can convince us that creepy symbols painted on trees constitute real scares, though he certainly shows us enough of them. Mercifully, however, the vamp does eventually appear, setting up a frantic, blood-drenched crescendo.
Frustratingly, though, the film doesn’t milk its scary moments enough, depending on its characters looking startled, shouting things like ‘Oh my God, did you see that?!?!’ to let us know what’s going on. For the amount of footage we are shown, we actually see very little. In Blair Witch, this technique worked very well, with clever sound effects picking up the slack to plant seeds of fear in the imagination. Black Water’s sound design is far less effective, leaving us to take Danielle’s word for it that we’re supposed to be scared while her buddies run about like headless chickens, shaking the camera.
When the bloodsucker does finally get involved, Tramel makes the big mistake of showing us far too much. Where Blair Witch’s big bad was so effective because its hideousness was only hinted at, Tramel actually gives his vampiric villain a few close-ups. The director is a little too eager to show his monster off and though the creature effects are half-decent, Tramel forgets that movie monsters are much more terrifying when you leave it up to the audience’s flight of fancy to imagine what lurks in the shadows.
Do I have something in my teeth?
Still, the horrific hemovore’s dramatic arrival does liven up a film that threatens to flatline at times. The crew make some predictably dumb decisions that inevitably put them in even more peril, leading to some satisfyingly gory action. A clever twist, heartily pinched from The Large Exorcism, also keeps things interesting, hurtling the film towards a climax that is, though derivative, certainly more satisfying than Blair Witch’s grainy, confusing denouement.
Black Water Vampire sticks to the mantra that if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and Tramel, to his credit, certainly chucks enough extra ingredients into the mix to ensure that his film takes on a life of its own. However, like a shop’s own brand Oreo cookie, it might seem different in a few subtle ways, but it’s so similar to the real deal that it ain’t fooling anyone. For hardcore horror hounds, this flawed found footage curio is still worth a look, and if you’ve never seen The Blair Witch Project, then Black Water Vampire might even pack a few surprises.
Take a Drink: whenever a scene seems like a direct lift from The Blair Witch Project.
Take a Drink: every time you see a weird symbol on a tree.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder why nobody seems to have packed a mobile phone.
Bonus Shot: every time a character does something dumb, like sitting in the tent with a torch on, when they know a vampire is right outside! Durrrrrrr!!!!