November 2, 2000

Just a Shadow of the Original

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After the summer of ’99’s blockbuster hit The Blair Witch Project, people were mystified by the Blair Witch of Burkitsville, Maryland. With the aid of vague advertisements and a realistic website, the general public was left to wonder whether the low-budget film’s stars were killed or if the whole thing was a hoax.

Now comes Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. This sequel, however, is different from most second installments. The director, Joe Berlinger (TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street) decided not to start where the original movie ended. Instead, he chose to do a commentary on the hysteria that The Blair Witch Project sparked.

Book of Shadows starts with a look at the cult-like craze incited by the first movie — baseball hats, tee-shirts, and little wooden stick figures, people flocking to the woods, and the reaction of the small town of Burkitsville. But while the beginning is realistic, the rest of the movie is just like any other “scary” Hollywood effort.

As in the original, the five main characters all use their real-life names. This time around, they are on a witch hunt in the woods for a few days. Jeffrey Donovan (Bait) is the tour guide. Kim Director (Bamboozled), a goth chick who thought “the movie was cool,” and Erica Leerhsen (big screen debut), a beautiful Wiccan trying to connect with the original Blair Witch, are both on the tour. There is also a couple working on a paper about the hysteria that that movie caused, Tristen Skyler (Getting to Know You) and Stephen Turner (TV’s Law &Order: Special Victims Unit).

The characters embark on their woods journey with cameras galore, sleeping bags, and most importantly beer and pot. (Who could camp without them?)

And that’s about all that you see for the next half hour. Drinking is fun, and sometimes watching really drunk people in person is fun. But watching movie stars get drunk and stoned for half an hour is really not fun.

Also not fun — watching pregnant women getting drunk and stoned. A little into the hunt, we find out that Tristen is pregnant and doesn’t want the baby … So what does she do? Drink herself into an oblivion –that’s the way to have a safe pregnancy and send out good messages to the kids. She does learn her lesson, we hope, when she miscarries and almost hemorrhages to death.

Next thing we know, they’re waking up, without recollection for a few hours of the night before, and all of their stuff is trashed, including Tristen and Stephen’s all-important research for their report.

And so the mystery begins. They leave the woods trying to figure out what happened during the hours they were “missing.”

And this is where the film goes downhill. Until this point in the movie, we’re reminded of the original Blair Witch by the rough look of the handheld cameras and the lack of special effects.

But we now enter into the world of the modern horror movie where special effects run rampant. People appearing and disappearing, slow motion, double time, and spliced bloody scenes and flashbacks. The effects happen too fast, nothing is left to the imagination, and, well, it’s just not scary.

And at this point, the whole woods experience has made the group delusional. They’re turning against each other because they don’t know what in hell is going on. And neither do we.

Even though all the actors are unknowns, they don’t really come off as inexperienced. It’s just that the film’s choppy and vague storylines don’t give them much to work with.

And it really is a shame. The Blair Witch Project was an original. It came out of nowhere and took the world by storm because it was one of the first movies in a really long time that actually scared people. And it worked because it seemed real. Book of Shadows probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as the original. It shouldn’t even be called a sequel.

While I have to give Berlinger credit for doing something different, the movie just doesn’t work. A continuation of the first, while not such a novel concept, probably would have been scarier. Advice for Berlinger: if you’ve got something that works, stick to it. Oh wait, it’s too late.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering what the book of shadows is, or how it in any way pertains to the movie, I have no idea.

Archived article by Merri Coleman