BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, directed by Joe Berlinger, written by Berlinger and Dick Beebe, produced by Bill Carraro, with Jeffrey Donovan, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Erica Leerhsen and Kim Director. An Odeon Films release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (October 27). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 84. Rating: NN
You can be sure Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows' executive producers -- the original film's directors, Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick -- knew they had no chance of recreating the first movie's success. So Shadows is less a sequel than a postmodern pat on the back.
Five men and women head into Maryland's Black Hills on a Blair Witch Hunt, a tour led by Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan), who was recently released from a mental institution and now makes his living selling Blair Witch knick-knacks on the Internet. They spend a drunken, dope-filled night camped at the spot where Heather's videotapes were uncovered in the original film.
In the morning, they discover they've lost their memory of the previous night, their equipment has been trashed and another group of Blair Witch tourists have been murdered at the infamous Coffin Rock.
The question is, did these five Blair Witch fanatics commit the murders?
Director Joe Berlinger, known for his gripping documentaries Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost, starts out using hand-held cameras and documentary-style filmmaking to set up the premise, with funny and self-reflexive results. The campers talk obsessively about the original Blair Witch film, even telling Blair Witch jokes.
After the murders, they return to Jeff's loft to figure out what happened. Plagued by weird hallucinations, they begin to turn on one another. Here, Berlinger switches to the genre's conventional techniques to tell the rest of story, and that's when we realize the joke is on us.
Book Of Shadows turns into a psychological-thriller-cum-comedy, rarely delivering the big fright -- scary things jumping out from behind doors, etc -- but instead allowing glimpses into the confused minds of the characters. They mostly yell and accuse each other of the murders in a series of yawn-inducing scenes. It could be the Blair Witch home game, where anyone with a video camera and an elevated serotonin level can play along.
Sure, it's entertaining, but what's the point? Why make a sequel to a film that was gloriously original? That's what's most irksome about Book Of Shadows.
Berlinger may be a talented director, but everything in this film, especially the acting, feels forced. It's as if the filmmakers wanted to prove they could pull off a sequel, and we're watching a cinematic dare: look, we did it!
The resulting so-so horror movie thinks it's smarter than it really is, and that's a lot more annoying than terrifying.