Regardless of personal opinions, it’s hard to overstate the phenomena that was The Blair Witch Project. Though some horror fans consider the indie horror overrated, it was a one-of-a-kind box office sensation in the summer of 1999. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez introduced found-footage to mainstream audiences after Cannibal Holocaust experimented with the format a decade earlier. And the shaky-cam thriller all but invented what we now call viral marketing. Then one year later, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 happened. It was not a thing. In fact, Joe Berlinger’s rushed sequel was the antithesis of the original. Audiences and critics rarely agree, but Book of Shadows brought them together in mutual animosity towards the movie. Nearly 20 years later,
Following the huge success of fictional movie, The Blair Witch Project, the very real town of Burkittsville, Maryland, has become a reluctant tourist attraction. Rabid fans descend on the town, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything ‘witchy’. But one tour group gets more than they bargained for after they spend a night at the ruins of Rustin Parr’s house. When they wake up the next morning, they find their things destroyed with no memory of what happened and several hours of time missing from their own video footage.
Book of Shadows an Absolute Mess of a Story
In the nearly 20 years since its release, much has already been written about Book of Shadows’ behind-the-scenes production problems. Chief among its issues, writer and director Joe Berlinger’s vision clashed with studio expectations. Berlinger wanted to make an ambiguous psychological horror movie; Artisan Entertainment preferred a traditional horror movie with blood and jumps. If this was indeed the case, it shows. Maybe Berlinger’s idea to treat The Blair Witch Project as a fictional movie had some potential. After all, Craven made it work in New Nightmare. Unfortunately, Book of Shadows’ premise crumbles under the weight of its own twisting logic.
Chief among its issues, writer and director Joe Berlinger’s vision clashed with studio expectations.
Very little of what happens in Book of Shadows makes much sense. We’re repeatedly told the events of the first movie didn’t happen, but everything that happens in the sequel hinges on the ‘Blair Witch’ being real. Ideas are introduced only to be left undeveloped or forgotten entirely. Is Erica Leerhsen’s ‘Erica’ who she says she it? Doesn’t matter. How does Jeffrey’s institutionalization – a fact the sequel hammers you with over and over – factor into the story? All these threads are ultimately just lazy red herrings. While The Blair Witch Project created a meticulous mythology, Book of Shadows throws a hodgepodge of scary movie conventions at the screen. Nothing in the sequel really holds together; stuff just happens because it’s scary. And this is where the sequel runs into another problem.
Book of Shadows is Neither Scary Nor Shocking
If Artisan Entertainment wanted Book of Shadows to be a conventionally scary horror movie, it didn’t work. Maybe Berlinger didn’t have his heart into the mandated changes to his story. Or perhaps post-production edits resulted in choppy atmosphere, thereby reducing any suspense. But even the jump scares don’t work. And like the story itself, many of the scares feel random. Oftentimes, Book of Shadows feels like a local haunted attraction assembled from generic horror iconography. Moreover, the decision to intersperse the sequel’s interrogation scenes throughout the movie undercuts whatever impact the final twist have had packed. And the “Coffin Rock” massacre confirms Berlinger’s complaints of studio interference. It’s a scene that feels badly out of place in the movie. Poor lighting and editing also reduce any potential shock value.
Whether it’s Burkittsville’s ‘hillbilly townies’ or the stereotyped representations of Goth and Wicca, the sequel teems with unlikable onscreen characters.
What is scary in Book of Shadows are some of the characters and dialogue. Whether it’s Burkittsville’s ‘hillbilly townies’ or the stereotyped representations of Goth and Wicca, the sequel teems with unlikable onscreen characters. Lanny Flaherty is acting in the wrong movie – his ‘Sheriff Cravens’ is a ridiculous caricature of a ‘redneck sheriff’. Though Erica Leerhsen has turned in good work in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, her Wiccan character here consistently grates on one’s nerve. No one else in the sequel is remotely relatable. At least Book of Shadows had a fairly decent soundtrack. Any movie with some Queens of the Stone Age can’t be all bad.
Book of Shadows Is As Bad As You Remember It
Occasionally, movies improve with the passage of time for a variety of reasons. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in not one of those movies. Absolutely nothing about this sequel works. In fact, Book of Shadows seems to work overtime to undo all the goodwill of its predecessor. Whether it’s the characters, antithetical big-budget production values, or illogical story, this is a sequel belonging amongst the worst follow-ups to great horror movies. Maybe the Blair Witch franchise is cursed. Even Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett couldn’t make their 2016 Blair Witch sequel work. But that proper sequel at least marked an improvement in quality.