Eric D. Snider

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Of all the misbegotten, asinine movie sequels Hollywood has ever cooked up, "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" might be the worst. Not only is it an illogical, nastily violent affair full of stock characters and slasher-movie tactics, but it's a sequel to a movie that absolutely needed no sequel in the first place.

We could forgive the latter crime -- of being an unwarranted sequel -- if it weren't for the former crime of being, sequel or not, a really bad movie. The twin transgressions of being awful AND unnecessary make this train wreck nothing more than a testament to Hollywood's greed mentality.

The film starts with title cards telling us that what we're about to see is a re-enactment of actual events. "Blair Witch Project" started the same way, of course, with one important difference: "BWP" claimed to be the actual footage left behind by amateur filmmakers who had fallen victim to a rural Maryland witch legend they were researching. "Book of Shadows" merely claims to be a re-enactment.

Immediately, this rings false, and it seems like it was done just to copy the first movie. If we learned nothing else from "Blair Witch Project," it was to not be fooled just because a movie purports to be real. How fooled are we going to be now when a movie claims just to be BASED on something real?

The first few minutes are rather funny (intentionally), as the film documents the only things in it that actually are based on fact. Using documentary-style faux interviews, we see the fervor that surrounded the little town of Burkittsville after "BWP" was released in 1999. People really did flock there, the smart ones wanting to see where "BWP" was filmed, and the gullible ones wanting to see where those three unfortunate filmmakers disappeared (apparently not having seen the actors on "The Tonight Show").

The line between reality and fiction starts to blur when we meet Jeff, a former mental patient (it's never explained what for) who has started a company in which he takes people on hiking tours through the woods where everything happened. On his inaugural tour, he has four people with him. There's Goth-chick Kim, practicing Wiccan Erica (who is upset about the bad press witches got because of "Blair Witch Project"), and boyfriend/girlfriend couple Stephen and Tristane, who are doing research for a debunking book they're writing.

The five camp out at the foundation of the creepy house where the "Blair Witch Project" tapes were supposedly found. After drinking a lot of beer and smoking a lot of pot, they wake up in the morning without remembering having gone to sleep (no big deal, considering the partying) and discovering that all their equipment has been destroyed. The only things remaining are Jeff's videotapes, which have been buried under a rock -- in the exact place where the "BWP" tapes were found!

Also, Tristane, who was six weeks pregnant, has miscarried. They take her to the hospital and then all five go to Jeff's condemned-factory-turned-house, where crazy stuff starts to happen. Watching the tapes from the night before provides only a few clues, and everyone keeps having odd memories and seeing things that don't really seem to be happening. Soon people are dying, and no one can explain how or by whom. It would seem the Blair Witch herself has possessed at least one of them....

Sure, it SOUNDS scary enough. But it's hampered by a terrible, hole-filled script that has everyone yelling, "What the hell was that?!" every two seconds, not to mention the worst ensemble acting in recent memory. (Most bad movies have one or two particularly bad actors. In this one, EVERY SINGLE PERSON is over-the-top, unbelievable, and completely ridiculous.)

It ought to be called "Book of Foreshadows," because everything "scary" that happens is ham-fistedly telegraphed beforehand. "This tree wasn't here before" means the tree will at some point disappear. "This is the only way in or out" means at some point that entrance will be destroyed. "They're not going to make it through the night" means exactly what it sounds like.

How about the absurdity of Stephen bringing every last bit of his research with him on the camping trip? He could have just brought a note pad and maybe a few photocopies of things he'll want to look at. But no, he brings literally hundreds of pages with him, all of which are destroyed.

Or the delightful detail of watching the videotapes the next day and having one of the videotapes show a person hiding all the videotapes under a rock. That's right, the VIDEOTAPES show someone putting the VIDEOTAPES under a rock. Think about it.

Or Tristane having a miscarriage -- a traumatic, medically serious event -- and then promptly going to a stranger's house to recuperate, rather than either staying in the hospital or flying straight home.

Or the fact that pale-faced, black-clothed Kim has psychic powers -- a character trait that exists out of sheer laziness on the part of writers Joe Berlinger and Dick Beebe. How will the fivesome know to look under the rocks to find their videotapes? Kim will just "know" they're there! How will we find out Tristane's pregnant? Kim will "feel" it and ask her about it!

Or director Berlinger's decision to use little-known actors, and have them play characters with the same names. This worked in "BWP," since what we were seeing was supposed to be real. But in this case, we're told up front that this is just a re-creation. So, what, are we watching the actual people involved -- including the ones who died, and the ones who are now in jail -- re-creating what happened to them? How else to explain the actors having the same names as the characters? Oh, I know: We're watching a bad director try to copy the elements of "BWP" blindly, not paying attention to which ones actually fit.

This is a relentlessly bad movie, one that never lets up and is never, not for even one second, frightening or believable. In fact, it is downright laughable and stupid, a complete and utter failure to be anything it tried to be.

Scary movie? No. Worthy sequel to a ground-breaking, truly frightening film? No. Thoughtful examination of group hysteria and/or disturbing reminder of the blurred line between fantasy and reality? No.

Lame waste of time? Yes.

Grade: F

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, gory violence, rather graphic sexuality, abundant nudity

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Notes:

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.

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