Let me preface this review by saying that I’ve never seen the original “Blair Witch Project”, the low-budget movie that revolutionized the way films are promoted on the Internet. But from everything I’ve heard, this isn’t a problem because the original and its sequel are two completely different movies sharing the same movie name. With that in mind I’ll begin my entry into the franchise by starting with the big budget, Hollywood-produced sequel, “Book of Shadows”.
“Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” is, I suspect, a gimmick in the guise of a movie. Like the whole “Blair Witch” phenomenon, which is itself based on a supposed real legend that was heavily (and ingeniously) propagated on the film’s website, “BW2” is more style than anything approaching substance. A gander at the film’s cast list will immediately inform you of the film’s gimmicky intentions; notice that the first names of the characters are the real names of the actors, with the last names of the characters being variations on the real last names of the actors. Are you “in” on the joke yet?
“BW2” opens with a documentary-style chronicling of the “Blair Witch” phenomenon, including soundbytes from real-life journalists (including movie critic Roger Ebert), on the matter. The point is: the whole “Blair Witch” thing has become so popular that it’s bringing tourists from around the world to the small town of Burkittsville, where the original movie was supposed to have taken place. Citizens of that small town are either for the hoopla (which means they’re making money off it) or not (which means they’re annoyed by the army of curious tourists).
The film then introduces our main characters, four tourists who are taking part in a Blair Witch tour being put on by former mental patient Jeff. Along for Jeff’s tour are bickering lovers Tristen and Stephen, who plans to write a book on the Blair Witch hysteria, if they can only agree on the book’s title; physic Goth chick Kim, who dresses all in black ala Marilyn Manson and is appropriately bleak and morbid; and supposedly “good” witch Erica, who is defensive about being part of a “minority group” and likes to parade around naked (Yay!).
The fivesome journeys into the woods to spend the night, but when they wake up they discover that all their equipment has been destroyed. They are somehow able to salvage videotapes from their cameras and escapes to Jeff’s house/warehouse to try to put things together. The questions? What happened when they blacked out during the night, and why have the tourists of a competing Blair Witch tour turned up gutted and dead? Is the Blair Witch responsible for the deaths and strange visions? Or better yet, why did director Joe Berlinger make the horrible choice of filming the movie as a flashback as told by the survivors — which immediately tells us who will survive and who won’t?
“Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” is more gimmick than movie. Besides the fact that the title itself (“Book of Shadows”) seems to have no meaning except that it “sounds cool”, the movie is more concern with inserting visual treats for the eagle-eye viewer than it is about making a substantive film. (Hint: Pay attention to the background. The first treat I noticed occurs in the cemetery scene.)
All of this makes “BW2” a visually stimulating film. Even though I get the sense that Berlinger wanted to continue the first movie’s look, there’s not any of the chaotic camerawork that the original is known for. If anything, “BW2” might just be a little too clean for its own good, because the film doesn’t have any gritty or edgy look to it. Everything is bright and colorful, even during the darkly night scenes. A little more dirt or lack of clarity would have done wonders for the atmosphere.
Even though I’ve never heard of a single one of them, the acting in “BW2” by the 5 leads is quite good. Although I have to admit, the Redneck Sheriff and Redneck Townspeople got to be a little much. While the Goth and witch characters are nothing more than stereotypes themselves, I have to wonder why a little bit more thought couldn’t have been put into the Redneck Townspeople. For instance, the Redneck Sheriff is so redneck that I’m quite sure even real life rednecks would grimace at his, well, redneckness.
It’s probably no surprise that “BW2” isn’t much of a movie. The film has some good performances by its 5 leads, and Berlinger has the makings of a visually powerful director, but I’m not sure what the point of the movie was besides capitalizing on the popularity of the first film. The storyline, such as it is, boils down to the 5 characters spending the majority of the film trying to piece the videotapes together. Not very exciting stuff, unfortunately.
It doesn’t help that for a horror film there’s surprisingly very little horror to be found. We see quick glimpses of the tourists being killed, but even those scenes are too bright and cheery to be frightening. And while some CGI ghostly images provide some measure of thrills, “BW2” lacks any real scares to speak off.
What was the point of “BW2”? That point was made when the movie opened big on its first weekend in 2000. Any other questions?
Joe Berlinger (director) / Joe Berlinger, Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, Dick Beebe (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Director …. Kim Diamond
Jeffrey Donovan …. Jeffrey Patterson
Erica Leerhsen …. Erica Geerson
Tristine Skyler …. Tristen Ryler
Stephen Barker Turner …. Stephen Ryan Parker