Whenever I see an unfavourable review of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, or even just some snippy remark about it, I always want to ask, “What would you have done with it?”
(Other than not even try, I mean.)
Because it’s not impossible to make a good sequel, even if the original is unique, or has a challenging premise or whatnot. (I’m thinking specifically of Paranormal Activity 2, a successful sequel I never would’ve expected, what with one thing and another.)
You bring your people back, you stand up for your work, you make it happen, mamajama.
No such luck for Blair Witch 2. It’s a studio film, with studio money, studio interference and studio expectations, and none of the people from the first film were involved in its production.
So of course it’s a letdown, if you go into it looking for more of what you got out of The Blair Witch Project. That’s like going to Paris Las Vegas and bitching about its baguettes.
If it hadn’t been a sequel, if it hadn’t had that association, I think people would’ve been kinder to it, because it’s not the finest horror film ever made, certainly, but it’s different, and interesting, and it has solid production values, and even as a sequel it’s got something special that sets it apart from most of its peers:
Someone’s actually put some thought into it.
If you’re any sort of a horror fan, you know what most of its sequels are like: more of the same, with a connection that’s insultingly flimsy, at best. First sequel gets the original’s only survivor, second gets her child, and then in the third he goes back in time or gets lost in space or some shit and the cycle of carnage starts again.
(Remember when Andy from Child’s Play got sent away to military school and everyone made fun of him for being so afraid of his doll? Good times.)
The people behind Blair Witch 2 could’ve made a straight sequel–friends looking for friends, parents looking for children–but instead they went meta with it.
Following the tremendous success of the original film, the controversy over whether or not it was a hoax, the uproar over what it may or may not have meant or represented, the impact it had on the zeitgeist, the town of Burkittsville is overrun with tourists–both fans of the film and believers in its mythology–and everyone’s looking for a way to cash in on the Blair Witch craze.
A local woman’s taken to selling rocks out of her garden after one persistent buyer wouldn’t take no for an answer. Another resident runs a successful web store, selling various unauthorized Blair Witch swag, as well as stick figures made from twigs he’s supposedly harvested from the forest, along with the dirt he sells by the sackful.
Several people are running Blair Witch tours, leading groups of tourists into the woods to visit some of its now-famous landmarks… and perhaps see the witch for themselves.
One such tour is led by the web store guy, a long-term mental patient of unspecified complaint who saw The Blair Witch Project seventeen times in a row as soon as he was released from the hospital, and whose business also extends to fencing “found” electronics. (What with one thing and another, he enjoys a fairly antagonistic relationship with the local law enforcement.)
The guests on his inaugural tour are a bit of an unlikely mix, but like the story itself, they’re entirely logical for the situation: a goth chick who thought the movie was cool, a Wiccan who wants to set the world straight about her faith, and a pair of academics writing a paper on the time-blurred line between fact and legend.
They’re all a bit skeptical about Jeff (their guide,) but he’s fun and charming and his energy is infectious, so by the time they make camp for the night, even the Wiccan is ready to pound Jägerbombs with him and pass the dutchie on the left hand side.
Their bush party sees a bit of a blip when a rival tour challenges them for occupation of their campsite–the crumbling foundation of the house where that long-ago man supposedly murdered all those long-ago children–but they trick the newcomers into moving on to another famous site instead, and once they’re gone, it’s drinkin’, gamblin’ and womanizin’ till sunup.
But only till sunup, because… you know.
That’s when they wake to find their equipment and research and so on smashed or lost or torn to pieces, and when one of the academics takes ill and they have to head back to town, and so it’s also when they learn that everyone on the other tour was slaughtered overnight, brutally and ritualistically.
And plus it’s when they realize that they’re missing kind of a lot of time, and their video footage turns out to be the most unreliable witness of all.
What the heck happened to the other tourists? How the heck did Jeff’s campsite get trashed? Who the heck ever thought the screenwriter could get away with calling the runic alphabet the Wiccan alphabet, and why is the movie’s Wiccan so freaked out by its appearance when she doesn’t seem to know what it signifies?
Blair Witch 2 asks more questions than it answers, and granted, incompetence is partly to blame, there, but more often it’s the nature of mystery, and the pleasure of leaving something to the imagination.
It features good performances, spot-on dialogue, a creepy story and a kick-ass soundtrack. It’s just always going to pale in the shadow of its big brother, is all.
I didn’t even like the first one all that much.