Book of Shadows: Blair Witch Two

2000, R, 90 min. Directed by Joe Berlinger. Starring Stephen Barker Turner, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 27, 2000

Is Book of Shadows the best comedy of the year? Or the worst horror film of the decade? Either way you look at it, this sequel to the most successful independent film ever made is a confusing, jumbled mess that -- despite the title's indication otherwise -- contains neither book nor witch. Along with partner Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger previously crafted three of the most visceral and captivating documentaries of the past decade (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, and its sequel Revelations: Paradise Lost 2). Berlinger has gone it alone, however, on this, his first nondocumentary feature, and although you'd think a background spent examining the foul underbelly of the American dream would serve him in good stead here, Book of Shadows' mix of docu-realism (lifted from the original Blair Witch) and more traditional narrative techniques results in a manic, hysterical clutter. This time out, the story concerns a group of five teens who embark on a “Blair Witch Hunt” through those same haunted woods, although they're more interested in finding the locales of the admittedly fictional first film than they are in discovering any real witchery. There's a Wiccan princess, all curly-cued tresses and faux-naïf smiles; a couple researching the Blair Witch “legend”; a boisterous, psychic goth chick; and a local Burkittsville good ol' boy who spends his time selling cheapo stick-figure men and assorted witchy merchandise via the Web when he's not out conducting local tours. When the quintet spends a night in the woods, they end up with several hours of their lives missing and no real clue regarding what happened except for some hinky video footage that may or may not reveal the presence of a mysterious entity. Madness and unintentional hilarity ensues. The very notion of a sequel to The Blair Witch Project -- although inevitable -- has seemed from the start a risky proposition. The original had no real story to speak of, being mainly just a collection of allegedly found footage, and so Book of Shadows is actually just an extension of the filmmakers' original marketing ploy, complete with its own exhaustive Web site and mockumentary tie-ins on the Sci-Fi Channel. Let's face it, though: There's only so far you can push a clever gag like this before it tips over into the absurd. Book of Shadows goes so far in the wrong direction that it becomes something akin to the Showgirls of the horror genre. The film fails on so many levels -- wooden acting, awful dialogue, a goth girl straight from Central Casting, and a sheriff who channels Slim Pickens and most of the cast of Deliverance simultaneously -- that the howls I heard in the theatre rivaled those for any Adam Sandler picture. Which is a shame: Fans of the original, myself among them, had vigorously hoped that the on-the-fly spookiness of the first film might spark some sort of genre revolution. Berlinger's wildly uneven hybrid, however, is simply a calamitous train wreck of a film, through and through. It's as though he and co-writer Dick Beebe intentionally set out to muddy the waters of coffin rock and the BWP mythos by tossing in everything and the proverbial kitchen sink. It makes for a grating, overlong yawner that's guaranteed to inspire many more belly laughs than it does actual shivers. Boo, scary? I think not.

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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch Two, Joe Berlinger, Stephen Barker Turner, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director

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