The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'Blair Witch 2'
is all tricks
and no treats

November 16, 2000
By Franklin Harris

Let's put this as simply as possible. "The Blair Witch Project" was a phenomenon, and "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" is just a smelly footnote.

I left "Book of Shadows" feeling empty. The movie left me as hollow as the jack-o'-lantern that's still sitting there, rotting away on my neighbor's front porch. A good movie gives you something, rewards you in some way for spending your time with it. This one, on the other hand, is a parasite. It takes your $7 and steals two hours of your life that you'll never get back.

Did I mention I hated this movie?

Jeffrey Donovan requires extensive psychiatric treatment after just one viewing of ''Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.''
Courtesy Photo Copyright Artisan Entertainment
Jeffrey Donovan requires extensive psychiatric treatment after just one viewing of "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2."
It starts out nicely enough, adopting the pseudo-documentary style of the first film. We learn that Heather, Mike and Josh, the ill-fated documentary filmmakers of "The Blair Witch Project," are still missing and that their footage has spawned a cult following.

But as soon as "Book of Shadows" ceases its jabs at the first movie's legions of rabid fans, it gets just as lost as Heather, Mike and Josh.

This time around, the story centers on five young people who, having learned nothing from the first film, venture into the woods to discover the truth about the Blair Witch -- the ghost of accused witch Elly Kedward, who has supposedly haunted the woods of Maryland since the early 1800s.

Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler and Stephen Turner play our merry band, each lending his or her first name to his or her character, a gimmick which, I take it, is supposed create added realism. Sure.

Jeffrey is a hardcore Blair Witch fanatic. Even though he was locked up in a mental institution when "The Blair Witch Project" came out, he's seen it 17 times since. And he's feeling much better now. Really. In fact, he's feeling so good he's gone into business selling Blair Witch merchandise over the Internet and organizing the Blair Witch Hunt, a tour of all the sites associated with Blair Witch lore.

Joining him are Tristine and Stephen, a pair of academics researching the Blair Witch legend; Erica, a wiccan who wants to make contact with the spirit of Elly Kedward; and Kim, a goth girl who just thought "The Blair Witch Project" was cool.

Each has a self-serving motivation for going into the woods and for tempting the ghost of old Elly. So, naturally, some Twilight Zone-style retribution is inevitable.

Early on, Jeffrey hints at the game "Book of Shadows" is playing with us. He says that film lies, but videotape always tells the truth. It's a silly distinction, but it sets up everything that follows.

The five camp out in the woods at the ruined house where Heather's documentary footage was discovered. After a night of drinking and pot, they are surprised -- nay, shocked! -- to wake up the next morning and find that they cannot account for five hours of the previous night. To top it off, forces unknown have trashed their campsite and video equipment.

They take the surviving videotapes back to Jeffrey's house -- an abandoned factory -- and try to piece together what happened the night before.

And because Jeffrey is a paranoid loon who's wired every corner of his place with video cameras, everything that goes on inside is committed to video, too.

Strange things start to occur, people wind up dead, and it all happens for no real reason. That's because nothing we, the audience, see is true. It's all lies. And we only learn the truth at the end, when the secrets on the videotapes are finally revealed.

In short, the movie cheats. It tells us one thing then says, "Oops! It didn't happen like that at all!" And it's supposed to be OK because, after all, Jeffrey did warn us.

Director Joe Berlinger does a competent job and the performances are pretty good, especially for a cast of unknowns, but the directing and acting aren't enough to save this mess. There is no real story here to tell, and there was no reason to make this movie other than to cash in on the surprise success of the first.

I know you're shocked to learn Hollywood produces movies just for the money.

Whereas "The Blair Witch Project" was both clever and creepy, "Book of Shadows" is just a typical horror movie, and not a scary one.

And who needs a run-of-the-mill horror movie that doesn't even have the decency to be scary?

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