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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2   D

Artisan Entertainment

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writers: Joe Berlinger, Dick Beebe
Cast: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Lanny Flaherty.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

One of the main criticisms leveled against those who despised that no-budget smash hit, blairwitch.com (actually, The Blair Witch Project, a better website than a film) was that we "lacked imagination." I disagree, countering that we were imaginative enough not to be bamboozled by an onslaught of megahype brought on by the Internet and baseball caps tricking us into thinking this film would actually be an event.

Perhaps Artisan Entertainment, which bought and distributed the film from two young entrepreneurs named Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, took that criticism to heart, since their sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, is as condescending, empty and unimaginative as any film I've seen this year.

This film is so bad, it made me want to rent the original Blair Witch Project out of nostalgia. After all, if you cut out maybe 80 minutes you'd have a first-rate short film.

The characters are easy enough to identify with, I suppose (I was a film student myself) and those locals in the opening sequence tell some darned fine stories. Getting lost in the woods is pretty scary, as is being pursued by an unseen, possibly unnatural enemy. I'm starting to think it was that long, long middle section of the film which amounted to prolonged shouting matches between our heroes and a third act whose sole line, ad nauseum, was, "Joooooosh! Tell me where you are!"

However, now is not the time or place to re-evaluate the justifiable merits and glaring flaws of The Blair Witch Project. Artisan was good enough to rush their way through an inferior sequel cursed, in effect, with a larger budget. This is not a film made by scrappy indie mavericks, or even a clever stunt (which is all the original film really amounts to). This is a marketing department's wet dream.

Reports say that the original film was a huge success, but only half of the people who saw it actually enjoyed the film. That explains why this sequel seems to have such utter contempt for the original. From the start, it's revealed that the first film was "just a movie" which has had repercussions on the actual town of Burkittsville.

The opening montage isn't bad. You've got Roger Ebert and other critics talking about the sensation of the movie intercut with footage of Burkittsville residents either capitalizing on the success by selling rocks and stick figures from their backyards on the Internet, or grousing that they can't even go outside nowadays without cameras being stuck in their face. If director Joe Berlinger had stuck it out in this mockumentary approach, he might have had something here (a la Ripley's Believe It or Not).

Unfortunately, after a fine couple of minutes of real and fake footage, we launch into the opening credits and a hard driving rock score. For some reason, metal over the title sequence is usually a bad sign for horror films. I get all jazzed up instead of settling into a mood of encroaching dread. As I recall, the original film had no music at all, which made me feel, quite frankly, a little lost -- we didn't know what was coming.

The three film students were normal folks, like you or me. The marketing department decided that for this sequel, we needed (a) a Goth girl made up like Elvira (Kim Director), (b) a Wicca chick -- the "good witch" of the indie film scene (Erica Leerhsen), and (c) a former mental patient turned Blair Witch tour guide (Jeffrey Donovan).

By making the characters larger than life, they become further removed from direct experience. The best horror films have inflicted their terrors upon everyday people -- folks who really aren't that special in the grand scheme of things. Even the punk rockers in Return of the Living Dead had normal fears and desires.

These three weirdos join a pair of young journalists (Stephen Barker Turner and Tristen Skyler) on a jaunt into the Blair Witch woods. Of course, they bring their video cameras and set them up around the ruins of child murderer Rustin Parr's house. They hope to catch a sighting of the Blair Witch herself. They sit around, videotape each other, get drunk and high, then black out.

Suddenly, hours of their lives cannot be accounted for. Something happened to them in the woods that night, since the research materials and cameras have been destroyed, but the Goth chick (who is also a psychic, natch!) helps them find the tapes. The rest of the movie has them holed up in former mental patient Jeff's house -- a Gothic factory building in the middle of nowhere.

They proceed to flip out and go crazy as the tapes slowly reveal what happened to them. Their skin starts festering and bubbling into Blair Witch carvings. They scream, yell, point fingers and shout accusations at each other.

Long before we reached this point, I was checking my watch and wondering why I was supposed to care about any of these clowns. They aren't people -- they are merely the product of a hack screenwriter's imagination. As for their situation, these folks are cashing in on the hype of the movie. Frankly, it's more obnoxious than film students trying to make a documentary about an urban legend.

Blair Witch 2 is so slick in its execution, so surefooted in its presentation of cliché characterizations. It's so proud of recycling the interesting urban legends of the first film right there on celluloid (images of Rustin Parr frying in the electric chair and of gutted bodies arranged in a circle), which actually takes away from the audience "imagining" those things. Our thoughts are more horrible than any picture on celluloid.

Straining for credibility with the academic audience, there's an entire "film versus video" theme which runs through the movie. Does film tell the truth while video lies, or vice versa? That's the question the audience is left with by the end, but it really isn't the point anyhow. Whichever answer you choose, the characters will have still behaved like utter fools in the face of death and madness.

Furthermore, the "truth" of this film does not lie in the footage, but in the marketing machine behind the production desperate to ensnare casual moviegoers on the lookout for a Halloween treat. If the original film was an elaborate stunt, this film is an utter travesty for those who loved The Blair Witch Project, those who hated it, and those who didn't really care in the first place. No matter where you stand, this movie will probably leave you feeling ripped off.

Review published 11.05.2000.

For another opinion, read Rob Vaux's review.

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