Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

"They fucked with the tape!"

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a modestly successful sequel to what, despite all the hoopla, was a modestly successful movie. I don’t mean financially, of course — The Blair Witch Project was one of the year’s biggest box office smashes — I mean artistically. Many times it worked and the ending was amazing, but the film gave me a headache and the relentless, repetitive, profanity-filled banter got more than a little tiring (“You got us lost!” “No, you got us lost!” “We’re lost!”). This follow-up has about the same ratio of hits-to-misses, but they’re different. It’s hard to understand the knee-jerk negative reaction to Book of Shadows. It has something most teen horror movies are sadly missing: ambiguity.

Instead of taking place in the world of its predecessor, Book of Shadows is cleverly set in the world where its predecessor was a big hit. It begins with a documentary-style clip about people from the town of Burkittsvile, Maryland (the setting of Blair Witch) react to being overrun by obsessive fans. The film then cuts to our protagonists, a tour group looking for a Blair Witch Experience in the woods of Burkittsville. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan), the tour guide, claims to know all the hot spots but the movie casts a shadow on the character by telling us that he is a) a first-time guide and b) a recovered mental patient.

The tourists all have characteristics that don’t make them ideal for a horror movie. Tristan (Tristine Skyler), for example, is pregnant, Stephen (Stephen Baker Turner) is a skeptic, Erica (Erica Leerhsen) is a Wiccan and Kim (Kim Director) is a Goth. A horror movie director would usually turn our attention to one person as a decoy villain when weird things start happening; Book of Shadows conveniently makes every single one of its characters suspect.

The group camps out at the place where the house in the final scenes of the original movie was supposed to be. They start to party and get a little drunk and just as things get exciting… they wake up the next morning. They seem to have lost some 5 hours of their lives; no one has any recollection of what happened and the video camera that one of them set up the night before recorded nothing — it simply skipped over the time in question. The five of them go to Jeff’s house (which is more like a fortress, really) to sort out what really happened.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Blair Witch Project, but it was a solid flick that opened to an overwhelmingly positive response. For many people, no sequel could ever live up to the expectations generated by the original, let alone a sequel that’s not shot in the first film’s style. But while Book of Shadows is hardly a work of genius, it’s also more than your run-of-the-mill teen horror flick. It goes for psychological terror more than “boo” moments and is more concerned with what the audience and the characters don’t know than the lurid details of what they do.

The movie is full of no-name actors and they’re generally terrible, with many cringe-worthy moments coming at crucial times. And while the bad acting undermines the atmosphere, Book of Shadows is just creepy enough to sneak by. What distinguishes it (and its predecessor) from normal slasher flicks is that there are no clear answers to the questions it asks. The ending is chilling in how X-Filishly open-ended it is, not only setting up a (now unlikely) sequel, but also ensuring that it won’t be forgotten (at least not right away). If only the film, directed by famous documentarian Joe Berlinger, was more polished and better thought-out, this might have been a movie unlikely to be forgotten for a much longer time.

-- Eugene Novikov

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