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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

"Holy Jesus! We suck!"
The "BW2" cast reacts to their dailies.

2000, Artisan Entertainment
All Rights Reserved

It was the surprise smash of 1999. A no-budget horror picture that took the world by storm, spawning countless (and endless) parodies and mountains of media hype. It was "The Blair Witch Project." Now, 14 months later, the dust has settled and Artisan Entertainment has come forth to suck the teat dry with the witless and nonsensical "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (IMDb listing), one of the most unnecessary follow-ups in movie history (not counting "Psycho II").

Mirroring the self-referential plot of Wes Craven's "New Nightmare," "BW2" is set during the aftermath of "BWP's" reign at the box office. Five strangers decide to take a tour of Burkittsville, MD; the location of the horror that befell Josh, Michael, and Heather in "BWP." Since this new film is narrative driven, we have five stock personalities in place of authentic characters. The Cynic (Stephan Barker Turner) doesn't believe in the myth of the witch and has come to research the story for a book. The Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen) is angry at "BWP's" success, as she feels the film made fun of black magic. A Goth girl (Kim Director) has come to tour because she thought the movie was "cool." The Earth Mother (Tristen Skylar) is expecting her first child and might hold a clue to the Blair Witch. And then there's the local Slacker (Jeff Donovan), who's only function in the film is to placate those in the opening weekend crowds who need to relate to someone like themselves onscreen.

The group travels deep into the woods to find locations where "BWP" was shot and come across the remains of the house that was featured in the climax of the first film. After a night of drinking, drugs, and heavy petting, the crew collectively passes out. When they finally come to, their campsite has been torn to shreds and all that remains are videotapes that documented the entire time they were unconscious. They return to the Slacker's home and begin to investigate what happened to their souls during that blackout period.

It's actually a good setup, and in the hands of novice narrative director Joe Berlinger, "BW2" might have seemed like a great idea on paper. Berlinger, who has had such acclaim for his documentaries ("Brother's Keeper," "Paradise Lost" 1 & 2), isn't up to the task. Mixing his trademark documentary visual style with traditional horror clichés (MTV-style editing, Dolby jumps), Berlinger is unable to give birth to anything cohesive in "BW2." The first "BWP" brought back a raw feeling to cinema. A feeling that movies can still disturb and affect the core of the collective. "BW2" forgets all that has come before by fashioning itself as a low-tech "Tales From The Crypt" episode. "BW2" wants desperately to scare you, but it doesn't. It wants to disturb you, yet it can't with Berlinger's suffocating style at the controls. The whole film feels like a cash-in. And, in all honesty, it is — just something to sweep up all the leftover coins from the wake of "BWP." By releasing "BW2," Artisan has permanently tarnished the legend of "BWP." And shame on Haxan Films ("BWP's" creators) for endorsing this embarrassment.

The opening of the film recaps what has happened to the little sleepy hollow of Burkittsville since the release of the "BWP." It's a little documentary on the status of the townsfolk and how many of them have been cashing in on phenomenon. Some have sold "Blair Witch" rocks through the internet, others try to pawn off the infamous "Stick Man" to tourists. This little opener is far more interesting that the 85 minutes that follow it, and quite honestly feels like a more-inventive idea for a sequel than all the silly spookiness that the filmmakers opted for. I think there was a gross miscalculation by Artisan when they believed that "BWP" was successful because of scares, and that all that would be needed for a foolproof sequel would be more, polished scares. People loved the myth that Haxan created for their smash film. It was fiction, but people elected to believe it. And those that didn't still poured over the perpetual background information that was made available at the time. "BW2" cannot be bothered to weave new fabric into this quilt of a legend. It aspires to be nothing more than a low grade chiller.

Berlinger could've shown better judgment in his casting as well. Using newcomers—as they did in BWP—Berlinger can only go so far with the material given the limited range of his cast. Out of everybody, Kim Director stays in memory due to her shocking resemblance to actress Debi Mazar, and Donovan makes an imprint only because he is the loudest and has the only part that features any kind of character backstory through a bizarre and pointless series of flashbacks of his character in a mental hospital.

The cast is especially out of their element in the demanding scenes that force the players to react to the horrific video images of their unconscious haunting. Regardless of what horrors they witness, they act as if nothing severe ever took place. Saddled with a room-temperature script by Berlinger and Dick Beebe (I must have heard "We've brought something evil back with us!" about five times alone), the cast writhes around trying to look disturbed, but it's inconsequential. Nothing evil happens in the film. At least nothing comprehensibly evil happens. "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (and no, there is no actual "Book Of Shadows" in the film) pats itself on the back with its mysterious ways and twist ending, but to fully understand the film requires a second or third viewing. And lord help me, why would anybody want to do that?

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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