BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Responding to news that the awesome new Blair Witch (reviewed here and analysed here) tanked at the box office, part 2 director Joe Berlinger asked Twitter if fans had been too hard on him. Save for the dubious proposition of equating quality and takings (an idea as shaky as the camera) it seemed more than a little petty. But then he’s called his movie Book of Shadows – despite there being no darn book – so I don’t know how good he is at articulating himself.
That being said, what he lacks in argument he makes up for in balls. Only a year after Blair Witch Project became the most profitable horror of all time, its sequel mostly ditched the found footage element, upped the budget considerably and acknowledged its predecessor as a work of fiction. The result is undoubtedly the franchise’s black sheep. Such a status is sort of fitting, since number 2 tells a tale of misfits. Based around the exploits of a ragtag tour group, visiting the original’s setting, the movie addresses the different groups impacted by the cultural phenomenon. There’s mentally unstable rip-off merchant Jeff (Donovan), real-life witch Erica (Leerhsen), Goth girl Kim (Director) and married, but intellectually divided, academics Steven (Barker Turner) and Tristen (Skyler). Following a night in the woods, they wake up with a miscarriage on their hands, their equipment trashed and no memory of what happened. Luckily they had the foresight to record, and this time the narrative focuses on them scrawling through the tapes to piece together the mystery. Did they do something very bad? Think of it as Sinister meets Dude Where’s My Car (?)
I mock, yet as an idea it isn’t actually too bad – focusing on the finding side of the footage instead of its recording. Its predecessor played on the authoritative nature of the documentary so deconstructing that with a sequel is potentially fun. Furthermore, by addressing the legacy of the original, the conceit allows for a wider meta conversation about the parallels between culture and civilization. The problem is this is addressed by a script neither sharp nor subversive to handle the weighty themes. As such it ends up being a partial satire of violence and horror that a) isn’t funny b) is shallow and c) undermines itself by how readily it ticks usual-genre boxes along the way. Almost nothing works in Blair Witch 2 – there’s characters that get a sixth sense whenever it suits the plot, acting more wooden than the location and exposition-heavy dialogue that borders on being a spoof. Furthermore the scares, when they come, are oddly goofy. Examples include dogs appearing from nowhere, visions of someone tucking into an owl and an enchanted tree that’s able to sneak up on people. It’s also poorly constructed, complete with random gore shots and a metal soundtrack that are entirely at odds with the creeping tension Berlinger tries to create elsewhere. Then to top it off a plot twist all but the dimmest if viewers will figure out from the first act.
Put simply, it’s a mess from start to end. Yet despite its many, many problems it’s a strangely enjoyable one. To be open, I have a long history with Blair Witch 2. I watched it at the cinema when I was 14 i.e. just young enough to find it scary. Then I saw it again at 16, when I was old enough to realise it sucked. But that wasn’t enough. At 17 and 18 I regularly got together with the guys for curry, beer and soft illicit substances to enjoy it with. To us its bad acting, iffy script and erratic editing gave it a Room like quality, with our pre pud-age Fridays often descending into Blair Witch 2 karaoke. I shit you not when I say I must have sat through it about 50 times in this span, and never by myself. Consequently, with the new one out me and my brother order some Indian and fired it on for old time’s sake. And it’s still bloody good fun.
As per Commando and Rocky IV it’s the very definition of so bad its good. These years later I still know every line the southern fat sheriff (Flaherty) says, the point Jeff changes his voice for a single line, when the Goth anchors her character by saying she hates “nature” and the overly-didactic dialogue about group hysteria. No, I couldn’t justify giving it a bad review with the amount of fun its given. Though a good one would simply be misleading. As such, if you do go down to the woods today you’d better not go in alone. Otherwise it’ll just be a bit rubbish.