The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on October 27th, 2000.
Here are some updated thoughts: Possibly the definition of a sequel nobody wanted. Book of Shadows had a budget 250 times greater than Blair Witch, and made only 1/5th of the money of its predecessor. If this doesn’t tell you that people were over the Blair Witch franchise before it ever got started, I don’t know what will. And just last year we got another Blair Witch movie that no one went to see.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Last year, The Blair Witch Project blasted into theaters and ended up grossing more than $130 million at the box office. And by now, everyone knows the storyline of that film: three film students went in the woods of Maryland to shoot a documentary on the Blair Witch. But the three students disappear and someone made a film out of the footage they found, thus inventing the “found footage” genre. Unfortunately, this was fiction, but people still believe that The Blair Witch Project was true.
That’s they lunacy the makers of Book of Shadows are targeting. The film opens with a short documentary on the events that happened after last year’s film. The film tells us that what we are about to see is a re-enactment of the events that took place in the fall of 1999. This time we have a group of four people who are obsessed with the Blair Witch. They take a tour through the woods, guided by a strange local man named Jeffrey. The characters cliches are conspicuous. There’s the girl who thinks she’s a witch, a Goth who has psychic powers, and a couple trying to write a book on the myth and history behind the Blair Witch. They party in the woods and put cameras everywhere around them in order to record any supernatural happenings that could occur. Problem is, when they wake up the next morning, they can’t remember what happened to them the night before. They’re missing five hours, and they believe they blacked out. But what really happened to them during that night? More importantly, do we care?
The cameras they were using to film the night’s events have disappeared, but they found the tapes hidden somewhere near their camp ground. They go back to an old closed-up broom factory (seriously?) and watch the footage to see what happened to them during their collective blackout. They will unleash an old secret and soon find out that they’ve brought something back with them, the very same thing that could have killed those three filmmakers the previous year.
Sounds good? Well, it is and it isn’t. Book of Shadows has some good ideas and moments. The only problem is that it takes an eternity for those moments to actually happen. The beginning of the film is shamelessly long and uneventful. You just watch young people drinking and doing drugs, laughing at the legend of the Blair Witch, and generally acting like fools. The events only really pick up more than halfway through the film, when the witch (or whatever it is that is after them) finally manifests itself.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 journeys into a dark and dangerous place where the line between truth and fiction blurs and perhaps vanishes altogether. Individual perception grows increasingly untrustworthy as the film’s protagonists find themselves caught in a vortex of unspeakable evil, the origins of which — human or supernatural — remain chillingly uncertain.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Director: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen
Media: Film, 90 minutes
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $48 million, worldwide
Year: October, 27 2000
Book of Shadows is a little too pop-culture oriented for its own good, going out of its way to be too smart and witty. As well as trying to be a scary flick, the is also tries to analyze the whole phenomenon that was the first Blair Witch. It is trying to analyze the effect the film had on its viewers and on the field of filmmaking in general. The film tries to make us realize that we were only part of a sham while watching the first film (so true!); whatever thrills we got from the first Blair Witch came from what is called group hysteria, and this hysteria grew into a cult phenomenon. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a bit too heavy and meta for a horror movie.
Book of Shadows was directed and written by Joe Berlinger, an Academy Award winning documentarian who did the amazing Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. This is his first fiction film, and he gets lost in the whole hoopla-hoop of storytelling. If this guy could have kept the pace that is usually associated with horror films and if he could have found an original way to recreate the Blair Witch phenomenon, maybe the film would have been more entertaining. But Berlinger is trying too hard to make an important horror film. He tries too hard to commentate on how horribly gullible film goers have become. And because of this, he loses touch with the first goal of any horror film . . . to try and scare the audience.
Regardless, some might find the entry more scary than the original. In my case, I’ll watch the original again on Halloween. But for those of you who hated the shaky camera of the first film, or for those of you who hated the shrill-infested Heather Donahue, rest assured, this entry in the franchise looks great. But the scream level is minimal. Those of you who thought the first Blair Witch was groundbreaking because of this, well. . . you’ll be very, very disappointed.
I was, of course, disappointed by Book of Shadows. I knew that this film would be different from the original. The original was groundbreaking because it was able to scare us without any blood or cheap camera tricks. The sequel forgets all of that and tries to show us as much blood as possible. And in this case, it’s not a good thing. But like the original, Book Of Shadows can be scary on a psychological level. It is a strange cross between a psychological drama and a slasher flick. Maybe it would have been better if the film could have picked a specific genre and played with it.
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.
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