'Blair Witch 2' slaps moviegoers in the face with a lame follow-up to a film that unquestionably stood alone
"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" exists for one reason and one reason only: Greed.
Artisan Entertainment -- the studio that purchased "The Blair Witch Project" last year at Sundance for $1 million and turned a $139 million profit -- isn't the least bit interested in whether this forced and fabricated sequel is any good. Quality and integrity don't enter into the equation. If they did, this movie wouldn't exist.
I don't have to tell you it stinks. You know that without seeing it. Everybody knows that. "Book of Shadows" is the first sequel in history that will turn a profit solely on morbid curiosity.
What I will tell you is that while the "The Blair Witch Project" was ambitious, original and enigmatic, the sequel is flashy, derivative and makes absolutely no sense. It's not even scary.
The concept here is clever: Rather than try to ape the surprise do-it-yourself vérité style of its predecessor, "Book of Shadows" is a more traditional narrative about the curiosity seekers that descended on Burkittsville, Md. (alleged home of the Blair Witch) after the first movie's release last year.
The first five minutes of tongue-in-cheek interviews with bitter "locals" and huh-yukking yahoos trying to cash in on the craze by selling T-shirts and stick men (the twig-and-string icon of the first film) give false hope that this movie might at least have a sense of humor about itself. There's a hilarious shot of a graveyard packed with out-of-towners camcordering everything around them.
But almost immediately the story zeroes in on a group of four aberrant tourists and their guide (Jeffrey Donovan), a 20-something fresh from the asylum who painted his van camouflage, stenciled "blairwitch-hunt.com" on the side (yep, it's a real web site) and began taking visitors to the woods where the footage of the first "Blair Witch" flick was "found."
The group includes a mordant goth (Kim Director), a comely redheaded Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen) who wants to commune with the "misunderstood" witch, and a writer (Stephen Barker Turner) and his girlfriend (Tristen Skyler) who are researching a book called "Blair Witch: Hysteria or History."
The first stop on the tour is to camp out in the ruins of the house where the last movie ended and where, according to the "Blair Witch" folklore, some psycho killed seven kids under the influence of the witch. When they wake up the next morning, none of them remember having gone to sleep and they discover supposedly disturbing videotapes of the hours missing from their minds.
Back at the abandon warehouse in the middle of the woods where the tour guide lives (oh brother), the group pours over the tapes and find these missing hours filled with gore, mysterious behavior and an orgy (oh brother). Even though the footage clearly shows something supernatural is going on, they all begin to turn on each other, saying stuff like "What did you make us do?!" and "There are rational explanations behind all of this!"
For the last hour "Book of Shadows" moves in nonsensical circles while each member of the group takes a turn flipping out emotionally or becoming (apparently) possessed. Some of them die in paticularly uninteresting ways, and the warehouse scenes are cut with police interrogations of the survivors. But aside from a few things that go bump in the night, that's pretty much it.
Co-written (with Dick Beebe, "The House On Haunted Hill") and directed by Joe Berlinger -- who has gone from documentaries about twisted child murderers ("Paradise Lost") to a movie about gruesome murder for entertainment's sake (how screwed up is that?) -- "Book of Shadows" is far more confusion than goosebumps.
Photographed in rich twilight colors amped up with the use of a developing process called bleach bypass (also seen in "Snow Falling On Cedars" and "Seven"), the movie looks eerie and exquisite -- 180 degrees from the jostled handycam style of its predecessor. But antiquated music video cinematography (quickly rotating dutch angles and in-out-in-out zooms) coupled with a few stoic performances lends an amateur flavor to the proceedings.
It's interesting to note that "Blair Witch" creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez had very little to do with this sequel (they're credited as "executive producers") -- not that the movie would have been any better with their hands-on input. Just like the studio, they saw dollar signs and decided it would be OK to slap moviegoers in the face with a sequel to a film that unquestionably stood alone.