The sequel that should never have been isn’t quite as terrible as you’d think.
The original Blair Witch Project, released last summer, generated polar opposite responses from audiences. People either loved it for its creepiness and creativity – the notion that the movie was found footage documenting the last days of film students in search of the Blair Witch – or hated it for its lack of a traditional scare, combined with its “realistic” amateurish camerawork. But with the sequel, Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, it’s safe to say that the two camps are going to flip-flop.
The original didn’t exactly leave itself open for a sequel. The fact that there is one kind of kills any indie credibility that wasn’t already destroyed by the mass-capitalization of the original. But once you’ve accepted that the filmmakers are out to make money like everybody else and gotten on with life…well, it doesn’t turn the sequel into a brilliant cinematic experience, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The truth is that Book of Shadows has an overall forced vibe to it. It is prefaced as a “reenactment” of events that occurred after the release of The Blair Witch Project. Burkittesville, Md., is mobbed with tourists, film nuts, and fanatics who want to see where it all happened. The movie focuses on a small tour group led by one nut-jar Jeffrey Donovan (once again, the names of the characters are the names of the actors). The tourists travel into the woods, black out during the night and, upon leaving the next day, discover that the evil spirits of the woods have followed them, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc.
In total contrast to the original, the sequel is all-out Hollywood. Visually, it takes on an Oliver Stone look; quick cutaways from the group to images of violence (people getting stabbed, having their heads bashed in, etc.) make for successful, albeit trite, foreshadowing. Video footage is incorporated a good deal, and the film opens with a montage of news footage dealing with the original film’s success and its repercussions on Burkittesville.
The cool thing about setting Book of Shadows after the release of the original is that it makes for lots of joking references to its predecessor. Donovan’s “Blair Witch Store,” selling stick-icons and bags of dirt from the woods, is a not-so-subtle jab at the capitalization on the original movie. And no scene in the film is more comical than news footage in the beginning of dozens of goth kids wandering through the town’s graveyard and forest, while the sheriff is yelling at them, “Get out of here! There ain’t no Blair Witch!”
On the more considerable downside, the Hollywood look brings a lot of Hollywood cheese and predictability. Ultimately, the film’s ending has a nice twist, but most of the plot is easy to call long before it happens–at least for anybody who ever has watched a horror movie. The acting is overdone and weak, there is just as much excessive yelling and screaming as there was in the original and some parts just delve into pointlessness, (a long scene of the camped-out group getting wasted).
Most disappointing is the superficiality of the characters. The Blair Witch Project did a great job of developing the characters and showcasing the psychology of three film students lost in the woods and surrounded by supernatural forces. But Book of Shadows just plays off a bunch of stereotypes: the aforementioned nut-jar tour guide, the goth chick (Kim Director), the angry redneck sheriff (Lanny Flaherty), and the Wiccan girl (Erica Leerhsen). Leerhsen is easily the most painful to watch. She drops Wicca factoids every chance she gets (“The first rule of Wicca is harm none, because whatever you do comes back to you threefold.”), making her seem more like an infomercial than an actual person.
But hey, maybe these are actually good things. When it comes down to it, how much you like Book of Shadows depends on how much you like mainstream horror films. If you’re all about indie films and liked the look and originality of The Blair Witch Project, you’ll probably hate this movie. If you’re all about Hollywood, and yearned for something more typical with the original, you’ll probably like it. Book of Shadows is toughest for those who occupy an ambiguous position between the two who don’t know what the hell to make of it.