Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is clearly Made In Hollywood, but it's still trying to pretend to be a documentary. The story this time? In Book of Shadows, the original Blair Witch was "just a movie," but this time it's for real -- this is what happened after all those tourists descended upon Burkittsville, MD, believing the woods to be genuinely haunted.
Of course, as the film points out, that was all phony. Um, but now the woods really are haunted. So the original wasn't phony after all. I think. Uh-huh. Who's going to buy it this time?
Book of Shadows is so self-referential, The Blair Witch Project is invoked at least once every five minutes. The film even opens with a montage of news clips and movie reviews (Hello, Ebert!) all talking about that Blair Witch phenomenon. You know, in case you hadn't heard about it.
All of this would be forgivable if the sequel was any good. All the fuss turns out to be for naught, a vain attempt at making a Hollywood snuff film full of disjointed fright gags. Book of Shadows has the same nauseating camerawork as the original and takes place in a forest, but that's where the similarities end.
This time around, half-crazed Blair Witch fans decide to venture into the Black Hills in search of the truth behind the legend. Within hours, it turns out the "myth" of the Blair Witch is anything but, and our unlikely heroes (including a once-psychotic tour guide, a Goth chick, a self-professed Wiccan, and a book-writing couple) find themselves waking up in their now-trashed camp with no memory of the last several hours. Then it's back to the tour guide's house (a spooky, converted factory deep in the woods, natch) as the quintet tries to figure out what happened to the missing time. And then the body count clock starts to tick.
I wasn't a rabid fanatic of the original Witch, but at least the original had a consistent mythology that, despite being cryptic, was relatively sensical. Book of Shadows is all over the map and completely random, jumping from scene to scene (as well as forward and backward in time) without much care for structure or logic. Frankly, the film just doesn't make a lot of sense, and it's not compelling enough to make it worth the effort to try and figure out.
Much of the blame should fall in the lap of director Joe Berlinger, best known for his fabulous (and real) documentaries, Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost, who is way out of his element in this world of MTV jump cuts and a throbbing heavy metal soundtrack. The cliché-driven characters aren't much help, either, but fundamentally you have to expect that this is just what happens when Hollywood tries to glom on to an indie phenomenon (see also She's the One attempt at rekindling The Brothers McMullen).
Of course, the biggest question most are wondering about is, Is it scary? No. It's creepy, but the spine-tingling power of the final scene of Blair Witch is nowhere to be found here.
And as for this titular "Book of Shadows," that's one little detail that seems to have been excised from the film altogether. I guess we're just going to have to wait for Blair Witch 3 to figure that out.
God help us.
Postscript: The home video release of Book of Shadows earns a few points for creativity. Included with the VHS tape is a short film that includes three brief outtakes while a narrator describes some curious extras hidden within the film itself. Ghostly images, words that appear and disappear, shadowy figures -- all subconscious Easter Eggs that at least make watching the otherwise dull movie more interesting, and a nice try at enhancing a VHS cassette with the type of extras you'd normally only find on DVD. The DVD is another matter altogether, notable not only because you can freeze-frame Erica naked, but also because it's a DVD on one side, and a CD on the other side with the metal soundtrack for your listening pleasure. But mainly, Book of Shadows earns some serious props for director Joe Berlinger's brutally honest commentary track, a 90-minute apology for some of the film's messiest bits along with the little credit he's willing to take. Very brave, both for Berlinger and Artisan.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th October 2000
Box Office USA: $25.9M
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Production compaines: Haxan Films, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 91
IMDB: 4.0 / 10
Director: Joe Berlinger