Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
The Blair Witch Project was a runaway hit in 1999, much to the surprise of its directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez and their small cast of characters. What began as a fake documentary with found footage of three college kids getting lost in the woods and then mysteriously murdered in 1994 ended up spawning its own genre of horror as well earning the directors, and Artisan Entertainment, a ton of money on very little investment. The problem is that Hollywood often wants to keep that money flowing.
To Myrick and Sánchez's credit they thought they should take their time on a sequel. The Blair Witch Project was definitely a phenomenon, but everything that comes with such a unique situation happened. Heather Donahue's goodbye speech was endlessly parodied, and The Bare Wench Project ended up having more sequels than the original movie did. Many people who saw the movie were not happy after the build-up to it, resulting in death threats against Donahue, compounded by the number of people who thought the footage was real and that the actors were stooges to cover up real murders. While a sequel was inevitable, the creators of the original were correct; it was time to let things simmer down before continuing.
That didn't stop Artisan. They wanted to cash in on the popularity immediately, so documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger was tapped to direct the sequel. He wrote a script along with Dick Beebe that explored a number of aspects surrounding by The Blair Witch Project, including bad documentary making and the role of the media in pushing their own narrative about violence in movies. On top of that it was supposed to be showing normal people, caught up in a fad, spiraling into madness. The whole thing was supposed to be smart, snarky and ambiguous. Instead, though it made money - but not anywhere near that of the original - we got a poorly acted hack job of a film, something that Berlinger blamed on studio interference.
Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) is a former mental patient who has jumped on board the Blair Witch gravy train, selling items online and hosting the Blair Witch Hunt for tourists. The tourists along for the ride this time are Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), who is doing research on the real Blair Witch, his girlfriend Tristen (Tristine Skyler), a Wiccan named Erica (Eric Leerhsen) and a psychic goth girl named Kim (Kim Director). While camping out at the ruins of the house of Rustin Parr, a child murderer thought to have been supernaturally influenced by the witch, their proceedings are interrupted by another tour group, whom they encourage to head over to Coffin Rock.
During the night Jeff's group starts to indulge in copious amounts of weed and alcohol. They wake up the next morning with five hours of their memory gone to find their camp trashed, Jeff's cameras smashed and the tapes buried under some rocks. After a trip to the hospital, as whatever happens causes Tristen to miscarry, the group goes to the abandoned factory that Jeff calls home to review the tapes of what happened. While there they are set upon by visions and strange images on the tapes that eventually start driving the already frazzled group apart. The problem is the tapes may not be telling the whole story.
While this movie has gained a minor cult status and calls have been made to have Berlinger's original cut released, the truth is I can't see it being much better. The studio had him add in the gory parts and other scenes that made the goings-on less ambiguous and, at least according to him, messed with some of the subtle satire that was sprinkled throughout in order to make it more of a typical horror film. The other major change is that scenes of the characters' interrogation by Burkitt County Sheriff Cravens (Lanny Flaherty) and others is distributed throughout the film, where those scenes were originally supposed to bookend it.
That is all well and good, but take all that fiddling away and we're still left Flaherty's hilarious overacting as well as Stephen Barker Turner's inability to deliver a line without sounding like he just chugged NyQuil. Erica Leerhsen isn't bad, but it's obvious the whole point of her being Wiccan is an excuse to get her naked at some point. Kim Director and Jeff Donovan are decent as well, but their characters were set up to have more depth than what eventually appeared on screen, especially since there was some kind of history between Jeff and Sheriff Cravens. There is absolutely nothing wrong in framing this as a film inspired by a film and directly referencing the first movie, as well as putting the Blair Witch herself again in the background, but for all of Berlinger talking about the concepts he had when making this I can't see it being that much better. The parts that come across as the dumbest are what Artisan forced to have in, and they are to blame for the editing, but no matter how much I dig I can't find anything that would truly redeem this film even in its original version unless a lot of that humor Berlinger talked about hit the cutting room floor.
That is the pity, since originally when this came out I was interested in seeing a straightforward movie that built on the legend as well as the footage from the first. In some ways Book of Shadows tried, and the beginning, featuring interviews with townspeople, is what works best. Add to that some of the worst examples of music from that period, all nu-metal and "edgy" music like Marilyn Manson in order to make things scarier. The film was originally supposed to begin with Frank Sinatra's version of "Witchcraft" rather than Manson's "Disposable Teens", and that humor may be just what is missing. Supposedly there was more of it - and supposedly it's still in there - but if it is it's buried, because the movie that was released to theaters takes itself way too seriously.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhson, Stephen Barker Turner, Kim Director, Tristine Skyler, Lanny Flaherty
Director: Joe Berlinger