Adam Wingard - Blair Witch(OST) [Lakeshore Records - 2016]The original Blair Witch film remains one of my favourite horror movies, and I’m always surprised at the amount of people who are indifferent or dismissive of it - though I can very clearly see why The Blair Witch Project is a divisive topic. For better or worse, it really launched the ‘found footage’ horror genre, but curiously didn’t launch a Blair Witch film franchise, as it threatened to. There was a second film, which wasn’t very memorable, and more enticingly a prequel, proposed long ago by the original writers, which seems to have been forgotten.
Cue the surprising 2016 emergence of Blair Witch… I enjoyed it enough, and there were some nice touches, but ultimately it seemed to run on a horrendous amount of jump scares: to be crude, it felt like the Hollywood remix of the original. As if your favourite hardcore band had reformed, and recorded a new, modern album: shinier sound, but retreading old ground with something missing… On top of this, there was the shocking blasphemy of an actual soundtrack! To be fair, it’s not that incongruous with the film - in the way that a soundtrack would have really coloured The Blair Witch Project. Indeed, the soundtrack is often placed rather low in the movie, volume-wise - or at least felt that way, on my viewing. This might also be due to the very minimal, low-key nature of the soundtrack itself, and hearing it divorced from the film was a very different experience for me.
Whether or not you can truly appreciate a soundtrack separate from it’s accompanying visuals, given my strong views on soundtracked found footage, I’m going to do just that. The soundtrack was created by Adam Wingard, the director of Blair Witch, and he describes that process in an interview elsewhere on this website(here). The project was mixed and produced by Robert Rich, a legendary figure in ambient music. In the aforementioned interview, Wingard lists names like Lustmord, and Nurse With Wound, and coupled with Robert Rich’s influence, you can imagine the resulting sounds. It’s a very eerie, brooding dark ambience; low-key and bass heavy. There are ten tracks, the longest over seven minutes, the shortest a mere 54 seconds, and they are very much cut from the same cloth. It would be wrong to say that they all sound the same, but certainly, there is a narrow range of colour, tone and atmosphere on display. However, this is a virtue, maintaing a level of tension, and also helping to validate it as an experience enjoyable without the visuals: there is no ‘happy travelling’ music (for example) to unavoidably remind you that it is a dislocated soundtrack. It also has the effect of somewhat blurring individual tracks, and I’ve often found myself just listening to it as one long piece of music. In that respect, the first two works, Black Hills Forest, and Rustin Parr, establish several of the key features of the album: ominous, reverberated rumblings, distant echoes, dark or breathy drones, whines, and echoing, modulating percussion. To some extent, that summarises the entire venture, though there are also bird-like sounds, wind-like synths, mangled vocalisations, looping sub-bass dread, strange chirrups, and even odd motorbike-esque growls (on Invocation of Evil) to be found throughout. However, the bulk of the album remains dark reverbs and drones, creating a atmosphere of quiet dread. Indeed, played quietly, the album does nicely colour a room, without being intrusive. However, this is not to suggest the soundtrack is a simple wash; it is, in fact, surprisingly detailed, and listening at a louder volume reveals new worlds.
I realise that I haven’t spoken at great length about the content of the soundtrack, but listing those various sounds above suffices, I think. The work draws from a simple palette, and never strays too far from a core sound and atmosphere, creating something otherworldly and mysterious from it. It feels pretty essential to fans of dark ambient, or horror soundtrack work - or, for that matter, video game soundtracks like Silent Hill. In his Musique Machine interview, Wingard heaps well-deserved praise on the soundtrack to the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, and whilst his soundtrack to Blair Witch might not be as iconic, it is as notably idiosyncratic, and crafted. So I can do nothing but recommend this - the film, however…Martin P