Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Let’s openly admit it from the start … there’s no way the people behind this could win. The Blair Witch Project was a phenomenon in indie cinema that likely will never be seen again. The movie certainly didn’t need a sequel, and probably couldn’t be easily hatched with its cracker-jack ending anyway. We, as a nation, are not only expecting any Blair Witch sequels to fail; hell, we’re demanding it. This is the state my mind I waded in as I started to see Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Burkitsville Maryland has become quite a hotspot for tourism because of the success of The Blair Witch Project. Local residents sell items such as rocks and stick figures to jabbering tourists, some of whom have come overseas. This is where our tour guide Jeff (Jeff Donovon) enters. He leads our band of characters into a tour of the Maryland woods. Each of his campers has their own reason for going. There’s the engaged couple with Guy (Stephen Baker turner) as the skeptic and realist, and Girl (Tristine Skyler) as the supernatural believer. Then there’s Wicca gal (Erica Leerhson) who’s out to disprove the bad reputation of the Blair Witch. Finally, there’s pseudo-psychic Goth girl (Kim Director) who really has no purpose except to wear pancake makeup and whine about how she’s unfairly treated by society for dressing in black.
This motley crew of slacker backpackers spends a night in the woods and turns it into something that you would see advertised during a commercial for Howard Stern. The alcohol mixes with the drugs and the next morning no one can remember a thing. Their surveillance equipment is destroyed and Guy’s lengthy paper is littering the ground like snow (it must have been over a 1000 pages for the amount that continuously falls). Accusations fly, and after a brief stay in a hospital occupied with ghostly images of dead children, the group decides to take refuge in Jeff’s secluded residence. It just so happens that it’s an empty warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Perfect setting for scary things to jumps out at people, and they do. The remainder of the movie is spooky shenanigans happening in this big bad haunted house until the mandatory muddled ending.
Book of Shadows (some studio exec must have tacked it on because it sounded “cool” since it has nothing to do with anything) takes off promisingly enough. The first ten minutes show the effect the first film had on the community and the fans with a mock-documentary fashion. Then it’s over quickly and we get a glossy film, a 20 million dollar budget and Marilyn Manson scraping his larynx or killing an owl on the soundtrack. Can you say “corporate fast buck”? I know I did. The sequel to the soggy backpack adventure of indie fame bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The only common line between the two is an assortment of unknown actors starring, which isn’t necessarily a good practice for every movie
None of the characters in Book of Shadows are truly interesting at all. Surprisingly enough though, they have an intelligent conversation about the blame of media and how it can affect others’ will. This, as should be guessed, is the high point of the film. It makes little difference that the most intelligent conversation in the film occurs when everyone is wasted and high by camp light.
The first movie was by no stretch a lesson in horror but it was innovative and relied on a practice of creating horror in your mind, which I can at least admire. Blair Witch 2 has no scares in it whatsoever. It has gore, blood, and things that are thought of as scary: bats, darkness, mean dogs, dead children, insane asylum kooks etc. Problem is none of these things work. They’re all textbook but they never work in execution.
Blair Witch 2 was directed by documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger. He co-created the truly excellent and gripping Paradise Lost films over the hysteria and blame that convicted Gothic teens in Arkansas of murder. It’s easy to see some similar themes in Blair Witch 2, which include a Goth crying out against the way she’s seen and treated and a Wicca crying out against the way she’s seen and treated. They’re carryovers from his earlier works. But Berlinger’s first step up to fictional direction is really a step down. He’s so good at storytelling and underscoring tension and drama in his documentaries, so what went wrong? I think it was probably studio interference (look at the title), but Berlinger may just not be up to snuff for fictional film. Which is fine because he’s one of the best documentary filmmakers alive next to Errol Morris, Michael Moore, and Barbara Koppel. Berlinger will bounce back but he may not want to make a fictional film again.
The way the story is told is in different layers cut together from different times. It’s interesting enough and sets up some mild foreshadowing but by the end, when it makes it clear who will survive and who won’t, it becomes annoying. The ending crawls along and presents two possible scenarios (spoilers): one; it invalidates everything before and shows the nature of humans with hysteria and their own capabilities for evil (better ending), and two; some supernatural force interfered and did bad stuff (boo!).
Reluctantly I think most people will go with ending number two. The understanding of the ending is too fundamental toward the enjoyment of this film. This further muddles the whole film and the reason for even watching it.
The flick initially took me by surprise but then left me muddled in confusion that has yet to cease. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a conundrum of a film. It’s really not very entertaining or innovative. In fact, it’s really not that great at all. It will be interesting to see how people receive this film with years of distance. I think it could be kindle an interesting film class discussion on the pressures of following up a phenomenon. Studio execs certainly had their say and certainly wanted Blair Witch bucks, but the public is older and wiser, and repackaging the same old tricks will not work the same. Owls, dead children, and shadows of friggin’ stick figures will not scare an audience without a story. Of course, after Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 bombed so succinctly, the ones left horrified were the studio executives. The public had the last laugh.
Nate’s Grade: C-