The story around The Blair Witch Project has always been more interesting than the film itself. A viral marketing phenomenon before viral marketing was a thing, the micro-budget movie convinced the world that three film students really had gone missing in the woods of Maryland, leaving behind no traces but the raw footage of their terrifying experience. With missing posters of the actors set up around towns and fake interviews documenting the legend of the Blair Witch, the way this late 90s flick was marketed - and the super authentic home movie style of the final film - was an incredible accomplishment in how to sell a movie.

And yet, the actual film itself isn't much to write home about. It builds tension well, and the characters themselves are superbly brought to life, but it's lacking a punch that even some of the earlier found footage movies before it were able to achieve. To say "nothing happens" in the film is a bit reductive - the whole thing is about what you can't see and how your imagination and knowledge of the myth fills in the blanks - yet it doesn't have the expertise or the ability to pull off this unassuming horror successfully.

So it took me by surprise this weekend when I saw so many critics and movie-goers rag on Adam Wingard's excellent Blair Witch sequel/remake while holding up the original to a seemingly impossibly high standard. Criticised for copying the first film but to a much lower standard, Wingard's flick does more than simply rehash the original material. Even then, when it does take beats from the original it often improves on their problems. Because while most of the nonsensical, incomprehensible photography of the original worked because it relied so heavily on the viral marketing to sell it as authentic found footage, Blair Witch 2016 doesn't have the same luxury, and consequently has to think up new ways to get audiences terrified.

And for the most part, the film succeeds in doing so. Excellent performances carry a script that could have been dead-in-the-water, while a great understanding of how to build tension and utilize framing effectively keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire run time. Even in seemingly unassuming conversations, for instance, the way the camera keeps a body of space empty in the distance or the way the characters - absolutely terrified about what's going on around them - look directly into the camera has a way of getting completely under your skin.

Even better - and in keeping with the spirit of the original - most of the scares in the first hour of the film come almost entirely from your own imagination. Similar beats from the first movie are there, as characters encounter strange noises in the night, discover weird artefacts and deal with things they can't explain, but the movie refrains from ever throwing a lame monster at you. Instead the film uses suggestion and encourages you to fill in the blanks to figure out what might be happening to these characters. Shots are repeated to goad you into exploring the frame for something you might have missed previously yet, brilliantly, there's often nothing there in the darkness other than your own imagination.

Unlike other horror films that use their set up as a platform for set-piece scares, the myth of the Blair Witch that spurs on the narrative almost functions like another character in this film. You're constantly thinking about it as the movie goes on, referring back to stories you heard at the beginning or throwaway lines of dialogue that could explain the horror at work. These moments of quiet (and the sequences that feature as much obnoxious shaky-cam as the movie's harshest critics have accurately reported) ultimately work because you're constantly thinking about what's happening to these characters even when you can't see anything. Blair Witch utterly draws you into its world, and it makes everything not in the frame just as scary as the stuff that actually is.

And yet, while the first hour of Blair Witch is suspenseful and interesting, it isn't anything you haven't seen before. Without a payoff to the excellent build the film could have gone down the same deflating route as any of the hundreds of promising but clichéd found footage movies have before it.

But oh boy does the movie have a payoff.

After an hour of false starts, near-constant dread and the occasional jump-scare, the movie becomes an assault of the senses as the characters come face to face with the true horror that lurks in the woods of Burkittsville. Instead of reacting to noises in the woods or strange omens, the film takes a turn for the surreal, throwing you into a world that no longer makes sense as characters are chased and taunted by half-recognisable creatures you only ever get to see for a split-second. Although many chastise point-of-view filmmaking for being lazy or easy, Blair Witch proves just how effective the technique can be. It's a clichéd saying but it really does put you directly in the action, creating an inescapable sense of claustrophobia that traps you in curse of the Blair Witch along with the characters.

Moving from one gruelling set-piece to the next, Blair Witch manages to squeeze a hell of a lot out of its actors, making for a physically excruciating climax where the palpable terror of the characters invades every aspect of the film. Becoming a tight, claustrophobic haunted house that you can't help but watch through your fingers, the unrelenting final act of Wingard's film solidifies it as not only one of the best horror experiences of the year, but one of the best horror experiences I've ever had the (dis)pleasure of enjoying at the cinema.

Even better, the climax doesn't just act as a spooky, potentially forgettable rollercoaster ride, as subtle narrative developments are paid off without characters ever uttering a single word. There's an inherent interconnectivity between Wingard's film and the original Blair Witch Project; a surreal, ethereal feeling of mythical dread that comes full circle by the end credits. These added layers function to give the overall story a bit more resonance than it otherwise may have had. I left Blair Witch with way more questions and theories than I ever expected to have about a film that I'd heard was just a bunch of pretty college students running around in a forest.

And after all of this it's hard for me to understand why the movie has taken such a bashing with critics. Because whether they really are just sick of found footage tropes or whether they really did think the original movie was a seminal horror not to be remade, it doesn't stop Blair Witch from being an excellent addition to the canon in its own right.

Overall, 2016 has been a pretty good year for the horror genre, and if more franchises were treated with the same respect and reverence as Blair Witch moving forward then we'd be in such a great place creatively. Unfortunately, the damning reception and even worse box-office probably means the movie's successes are going to be ignored for the same tired excuses for horror that've been shovelled onto the screen countless times over the past few years. And the worst part is: we've only got ourselves to blame.