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BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS (2000) ** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

“Blair Witch Project”… These three words sent the media into a frenzy in 1999. Before its release, much of the public fell under the false impression that the independent, pseudo-documentary was an actual occurrence. Audiences flocked to see the movie hailed as the scariest film since “The Exorcist”, making it one of the most successful motion pictures of all time. A sequel was inevitable, and inevitably the sequel was bound to disappoint.

“Blair Witch 2” revisits the town of Burkittsville, Maryland where the original Blair Witch movie took place. In a strange attempt to once again bend reality, the characters in “BW2” live in a world like ours, where “Blair Witch Project” was simply a fictional movie and the tourists flocking to the town are simply fans of the movie. Then the film lapses into several inconsistencies where it seems the filmmakers forget that the characters really shouldn’t be believing in a fictional witch or trying to film it on video… and yet they do? Towards the end, one character suggests that Jungian psychology is to blame for the supernatural occurrences? Just two of the confusing and sloppy choices the creators of “BW2” made. Some of it due to the fact that they fast-tracked this film into an early release before Halloween. The original was released barely a year ago.

The film follows 5 young adults, 4 of whom come to Burkittsville for a guided “Blair Witch” tour given by a fifth character who was once institutionalized for mental problems. They proceed to camp out at a famous landmark from the original movie and set up cameras to catch any spiritual activity. After a binge of booze and pot, they wake up with the cameras smashed and their gear in shreds. They soon realize that there are five hours of that night that they cannot account for (which they presume is not from the drugs and alcohol) so they begin to examine the videotape in order to solve the mystery. When one of the girls suffers a miscarriage and a separate tour group ends up ritually murdered, they begin to question their trust in each other and their own sanity.

One actor stood out due to his charisma and acting ability. Jeffery Donovan, playing a character of the exact same name (as did all of the other characters), proved some talent despite the poor dialogue written for him. Erica Leerhsen, as a girl deeply immersed in the “Wiccan” religion, showed no acting talent but will certainly get more roles due to her good looks. Terrible performances by the rest of the cast, including a weird, Slim Pickens look-a-like playing the yokel sheriff of Burkittsville. He provoked unintentional laughs during serious moments.

I’m deeply disappointed in Director Joe Berlinger for sabotaging the Blair Witch franchise with this stinker. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was deliberate. Berlinger, a documentary filmmaker, directed the infamous films “Paradise Lost” in 1996 and “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”, both about the child murders at Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis, Arkansas. The documentaries suggested that convicted murderer Damien Echols and his accomplices were scapegoats of a community that feared their pagan beliefs and their affinity for heavy metal music. Right or wrong, these films attempted to expose the perils of public hysteria by suggesting that this case was a modern day witch-hunt. “Blair Witch 2” undermines Berlinger’s previous philosophy by glorifying “witch hysteria” and making it the central theme. It’s rumored that Berlinger was finagled into making this film so that he could finance his next documentary project. Perhaps intentionally making a bad Blair Witch movie contains a hidden statement from Berlinger… Or more likely he just goofed.

I liked the original “Blair Witch Project.” I followed its progress since it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and eagerly awaited its release. When the hype reached its full saturation and the film opened, many people felt cheated, expecting a mainstream, Hollywood movie. I had never actually seen an audience member demand their money back for a film until the day I saw “BWP.” However, I was not disappointed. I knew that the “Blair Witch Project” had been a cheaply financed student film that grew too big to live up to the hype. I admired it for its originality and its ability to frighten people without the use of gore or cheap thrills. It made history. Too bad its sequel will go down as one of my least favorite movies of the year 2000.
Plenty of gratuitous nudity and profanity cheapens the effect of this film, as well as limiting the prospective audience. The gore scenes are sparse, but there is some extreme cruelty dealt out by the characters. View only against my recommendation.

Scale of 1-5: 2

Most refreshing aspect of the film – Once again, Artisan Entertainment developed a unique marketing campaign to promote their film. In October, Artisan hosted the “Blair Witch Webfest”, on the internet. For 12 hours out of 3 days, the Blair Witch website worked like a TV station, broadcasting live interviews with horror film stars, directors, showcasing up-and-coming musical bands and much more. The event was the first of its kind, and in contrast to the film itself, quite entertaining.

Biggest gripe – So begins the list: Bad acting, bad dialogue, poor and inconsistent story structure, lack of scares, loads of blatant horror clichés, continuity errors, etc…

Biggest surprise – That the end result turned out so poorly. Artisan Entertainment had all of their ducks lined up in a row. They hired a revered director. They created a wonderfully complex back-story (much like the first film) and supplemented the Blair Witch legend admirably, but most of that information exists only on the Blair Witch web site. Finally, the only thing that wasn’t bad in the movie was the climax in which the characters finish reconstructing the video of their missing hours and view what really happened the night before. The result was chilling, but lost its effect when the story fell apart in the end. Not enough to warrant a viewing.
Although this terrible film tarnished the Blair Witch franchise, all is not lost. Artisan currently plans a “prequel” to the original film in which they will explore the origins of the Blair Witch in the 18th century. Sounds like a much more interesting film than the teenage, slasher-like movie sequel, “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows”. What is the “Book of Shadows” you ask? Don’t ask me, the enigmatic title was never explained. In fact… I can’t recall seeing a single book in the entire movie. I doubt there is even a metaphor to explain it in such a shallow, shoddy movie.

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