et 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
"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,
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,
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?