Moviegoers still griping about the realism of The Blair Witch Project get the sequel they deserve in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000
In 1999, three fictional filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Md., while shooting a documentary. One year later, I'm still hearing complaints about The Blair Witch Project.
The movie was simply too different, too original for horror-movie tastes corrupted by decades of graphic violence, connect-the-dot plots and easy answers. The Blair Witch Project was as close to watching a snuff film as I ever want to get, a logically sloppy hike into blunt terror. Everyone should have seen it before hype raised expectations to an unreachable peak for such an unassuming film.
Anything making The Blair Witch Project brilliant (or irritating) is junked in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, possibly the worst sequel ever made. It's the movie many people expected the original to be, the movie they deserve.
The first film didn't show a single on-screen death, only a small splash of blood, and some viewers felt cheated. Director Joe Berlinger, a fine documentarian who should retreat to that genre, makes up for that during the opening credits alone. Berlinger tosses in gratuitous nudity, sex and exposition The Blair Witch Project boldly avoided.
Even the camera is steady most of the time; gone is the jerky, hand-held cinematography of the original. Moviegoers protested the raggedness of the movie. They didn't understand that was exactly the point: Those doomed campers could be us.
Berlinger's opening premise is an amusing extension of the original's success. Burkittsville actually became an attraction for tourists buying into the Blair Witch legend concocted by five University of Central Florida film students. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez are credited as executive producers, suggesting they took Artisan Entertainment's money for their great idea and ran.
Berlinger introduces five more amateur snoops heading into the woods to investigate. As with the first film, they're known by the actors' real first names, but this time with slightly altered last names. You won't need to remember them after this movie.
Each character gets one personality trait, more than enough. Jeffrey Donovan plays a local profiteer on the Blair Witch legend. Kim Director goes Goth with midnight fashion and pale skin. Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner are lovers and authors writing about the witch. Erica Leehrsen portrays an oversexed Wiccan. Why any of these obnoxious people should survive after the original trio perished is beyond me.
Another performance is so horrible that it demands attention. Someone named Lanny Flaherty plays a belligerent sheriff as if possessed by the spirit of Ed Wood, yelling and punching up all the wrong syllables. He erases the film's tenuous links to credibility by shrieking louder than the Blair Witch herself could manage.
Stupid things happen in the woods: creepy confetti, a haunted tree, ghostly apparitions, arbitrary psychic ability and gruesome hallucinations. A nasty bit of violence is foreshadowed with flashes of bondage and evisceration. Terror doesn't accumulate, or even spasm; it simply lurks in the background, waiting in vain to be called forward.
Berlinger's mistake lies in abandoning the documentary format he uses to spoof the Blair Witch phenomenon in a tidy prologue. All five actors carry video cameras, but the infrequent footage we see looks designed and therefore less real. The first film forced viewers to share the victims' point of view and, by extension, their fear. Berlinger makes us outsiders with every locked-down camera and calculated pan.
Take away Book of Shadows' references to The Blair Witch Project and this movie could be Urban Legends Part 5 or The Craft Part 7. It operates like every other gore-bore created for cheap thrills and fast paydays. The revolution in movie terror is over. Ingenuity surrendered.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Lanny Flaherty
Screenplay: Joe Berlinger, Dick Beebe
Rating: R; violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations
Running time: 90 min.