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