Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

             Admittedly, I was one of the seemingly rare few who was unimpressed
     by the mega-successful
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. To me, it seemed a
     nice film school exercise, but hardly one of the all-time great horror movies.
     Sure, it was impressive that co-directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick
     focused on how the imagination could create terror from nothing (no less
     a genius than Orson Welles exploited that with his (in)famous
War of
     the Worlds
broadcast). In some ways, Sanchez and Myrick returned horror
     movies to a purer state. Still, I remained unconvinced about their
     capabilities beyond a P.T. Barnum kind of showmanship. After all, if it
       weren't for the Web site and the multitude of tie-ins, THE BLAIR
       WITCH PROJECT
probably would have faded quietly away.

             Not wanting to let the opportunity for a franchise to go untapped,
     Artisan Entertainment (the little studio that became a player thanks to
     the movie's huge grosses) agreed to bankroll a sequel. Myrick and Sanchez
     were tied up with other projects (and served only as executive producers
     on number two), so the hunt was on for an appropriate helmer. An
     inspired choice was Joe Berlinger, the acclaimed documentarian who with
     his partner Bruce Sinofsky explored how murderers and those who are
     seemingly "different" are dealt with by the media and their communities
     in such acclaimed nonfiction films as
BROTHER'S KEEPER, PARADISE LOST:
       THE CHILD MURDERS OF ROBIN HOOD HILLS
and PARADISE LOST 2:
       REVELATIONS
. He has stated in interviews and in the press notes for
       BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 that he wanted to explore the
     effects of a phenomenon like the original movie on ordinary people.

             One of the characters in the film makes the telling statement along
     the lines that film lies but video tells the truth and that is really Berlinger's
     theme. The trouble is he doesn't quite achieve his goals.
             
             This sequel had the potential to build on the first film's success but
     Berlinger and his co-writer Dick Beebe (who also penned the dreadful
     remake of
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) have jettisoned the premise
     of the original and copped a post-modern, slightly hip attitude. They
     acknowledge that the original was only a movie and somewhat of a
     hoax. Berlinger begins the movie promisingly with a mock documentary
     in which TV talking heads (Kurt Loder of MTV, Conan O'Brien, Roger
     Ebert) discuss the overwhelming success of
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
     and acknowledge the negative effect it had on the small town of
     Burkittsville, Maryland. The director then includes purported interviews
     with residents who speak of how the adjustments they've made (one
     woman makes sure she never leaves her house unless she has her
     makeup on, even if it is to get the mail).

             We are then introduced to one of the film's protagonists Jeff
     Patterson (Jeffrey Donovan) who has put together an Internet business
     selling twig figures, T-shirts, caps, and the like. (A flashback then shows
     that Jeff has spent some time in a mental hospital and undergone shock
     treatment for an unnamed reason.) Entrepreneur that he is, Jeff has hit
     on the idea of operating a tour called "The Blair Witch Hunt" and the
     movie follows its inauguration, with four people along for the ride:
     Erica Geerson (Erica Leerhsen), a Wiccan who felt the original movie
     promoted the stereotype of witches as evil; Kim Diamond (Kim Director),
     a Goth chick decked out like Angelina Jolie on Oscar night who has
     psychic abilities that work only when the script requires ("How do you
     know that?" "I don't know. I just do!"); and the academic couple
     Stephen Ryan Parker (Stephen Barker Turner), who is convinced there
     is no such thing as a witch, and his pregnant companion Tristen Ryler
     (Tristen Skyler) who is feels the myth of the Blair Witch has some basis
     in fact. They travel to the ruins of the house from the original film and
     set up camp. A rival group which includes Japanese and German tourists
     tries to crash the same site, but are sent away to Coffin Rock (another
     place prominently featured in the first movie).

             Our little group then proceeds to imbibe beer and whiskey and
     toke a few joints and before you can say presto, they discover that
     some five hours of their lives have disappeared. When they awake,
     their campsite has been trashed and Tristen has taken ill.

             The five later repair to Jeff's home in an abandoned factory to try
     to piece together the events of the prior night and begin to experience
     weird things. Each appears to have markings on their bodies. Some
     experience hallucinations. Erica becomes convinced that an evil presence
     has followed them. One of the characters mysteriously disappears,
     etc., etc.

             On paper these may sound a bit spooky, but there is nothing in
     
BOOK OF SHADOWS that is hair-raisingly terrifying. An average episode
     of
"The X-Files" can induce more chills and genuine scares. Berlinger
     has made a terrible miscalculation in believing that his lofty ideas about
     how mass hysteria may work are intriguing or frightening. (In fact, the
     audience at the screening I attended laughed at scenes that weren't
     exactly meant for comic relief.)

             The actors do what they can with their limited roles. Erica
     Leerhsen and Kim Director come off the best; both possess a winning
     screen presence and project the charisma of stars in the making. Jeff
     Donovan has his slightly creepy character down, although the flashbacks
     to his character's incarceration in the mental hospital are unexplained
     and seemingly unnecessary. Stephen Barker Turner and Tristen Skyler
     have the worst roles and are somewhat defeated by the lame screenplay.

             The film's color cinematography by Nancy Schreiber and the pulsating
     score (original music by Carter Burwell and contributions from POE and Marilyn        
      Manson) do add something to the film. But overall, this has to be the most
     pointless and disappointing sequel to a horror movie, since,
     well...there've been so many you would think they would have learned.
     Be forewarned: there are still plans for a third installment, this one a
     prequel that will recount the story of the Blair Witch. If I want a story of
     witchcraft trials, I'll rent
THE CRUCIBLE.


                                     Rating:              D
                                     MPAA Rating:      R
                                     Running time:     90 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.