Don't Go Into the Woods
Bewitching Sequel Won't Be Found Here
If nothing else, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 proves original Blair Witch creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez to be incredibly canny in a Bill Gates sort of way. By taking only producer credits on this sequel to The Blair Witch Project, they're close enough to claim credit if it's a smash and far enough removed to blame the new crew of hired hands if it turns out to be an incompetent piece of cinematic excrement. Which, as it so happens, it is.
The film's first 10 minutes are cruel, suggesting that Book of Shadows may not only be tolerable, but quite witty. Directed in handheld-camcorder style, à la the first Witch, by documentarian Joe Berlinger (Brothers' Keeper), we're treated to a deftly edited series of real TV reviews and news reports mixed with fake interviews examining the effects of the first film's Hula-Hoop-like success on residents of BWP's featured town, Burkittsville, Md. In one goofy interview, a female resident recalls her attempt to sell Blair Witch souvenir rocks over the Internet (it didn't pan out, what with the cost of mailing rocks). Then, after some scenes of doctors ramming tubes up a straitjacketed lunatic's nose (don't ask), the film segues to wide-screen shots of autumnal forests as Marilyn Manson pounds on the soundtrack, and we're headfirst on our journey to the aforementioned cinematic Shitsville.
Amid a bunch of way-postmodern flashbacks and flashforwards, which do nothing but telegraph the film's ending before we even know its plot, we meet the remarkably vacuous cast, who, as in the first film, perform under their real names. The new Blair Witch repertory group consists of Kim Director, as Kim, the Caustic but Busty Goth Girl; Jeffrey Donovan, as Jeffrey, the Tense Young Author; and Tristine Skyler as Tristen, his Neurotic Knocked-up Wife. Also on hand are Stephen Barker Turner, as Stephen, the Possibly Insane Blair Witch Tour Guide Who Knows All About Computers; and Erica Leerhsen, as Erica, the Dimwitted Babe Who's Into Wicca (and also the film's Designated Naked Person).
As per BWP protocol, these yappy young ciphers mainly argue a lot about nothing in particular, until taken by Stephen on a tour of the Burkittsville woods. They take note of a totally scary tree (really), decide the wisest thing is to camp next to it, set up a bunch of camcorders, and then party their smallish brains out.
The next day, the gang wakes up to find that all of Stephen's way-cool gear has been trashed by Forces Unknown. So they repair to Stephen's computer-jammed warehouse to watch the videotapes left untouched at the campsite (don't ask) to see what the fuck happened.
What the fuck happened is that three hours of video are ominously missing from the tapes. But there are a few seconds of footage showing Erica being naked. After arguing about the portent of Erica's nakedness, Tristen miscarries gruesomely, everyone dashes to a hospital so she can recover and then . . . yep . . . back to the secluded warehouse to watch more videos.
You have to ask yourself: Do I want to see a movie that, to a great extent, consists of people watching videos?
Anyway, everybody starts freaking out: Kim has visions of eating a dead owl, Tristen gets possessed, and Jeffrey imagines himself screwing Erica (who, as it turns out, has a telltale tattoo of some sort on her Wiccan butt). Most everybody has hallucinations about the actual Blair Witch (maybe), who looks like the remnant seen in Stir of Echoes (definitely). Then Erica shows up naked and dead in a closet, people watch more videos, and assorted things might or might not happen until the movie ends just as we knew it would courtesy of those flash-forwards generously provided in the film's first half-hour.
But what about the fucking Blair Witch? one might ask. Well, in a canny bit of postmodernism and/or craven loose ending that allows for another sequel--that, if there is a just God, will never happen--we learn fuck-all about the Blair Witch. Characters allude to a turn-of-the-century witch being killed unjustly, we see lots of gory flashbacks (?) of people getting disemboweled, and, at one point, Kim has a vision of kids in old-time clothing standing around.
If Book of Shadows exists for any reason, it's to assure mainstream Hollywood studios that they have nothing to fear from independent cinema. That the creators of independent film, with a few bucks flashed before their indie eyes, can be as calculating, arrogant, and contemptuous of their audience's intelligence as their mainstream compadres.