Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (Joe Berlinger, 2000)
So I finally got around to watching the almost universally-reviled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which as I write this has a 3.9 rating on IMDB and has a 13% critical rating at Rotten Tomatoes that (spoiler alert!) is scarier than anything in the movie. But, you know, I figured “Joe Berlinger directed this movie. He’s half of the team that directed Brother’s Keeper and the Paradise Lost documentaries. How bad can it really be?” By the time I was done watching it, I discovered I had been asking myself the wrong question. Instead, I was then asking myself, “how does a director with such a proven track record (as well as the aforementioned, Berlinger had also directed at least one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the best shows ever on television) make a movie this awful?
Plot: Jeffrey Patterson (Burn Notice‘s Jeffrey Donovan), a resident of Burkittsville, MD (the scene of the original Blair Witch Project), decides in the wake of the film’s publicity to start a tourism service. A group of college students and a husband-and-wife professional ghost-hunter team take the maiden voyage, which finds itself in not-so-friendly competition with another guy who had the same idea, and is also on his maiden voyage. The first night, the crew camp out—but when they wake up the next morning after a night of drunken and drug-fueled revelry, they find that they weren’t the only ones who blacked out—their everpresent video cameras have lost five hours of time. And during that five hours, the other crew of ghost hunters were brutally murdered. With Jeffrey and his charges the prime suspects, they retreat to the well-guarded house of Rustin Parr, supposedly the first victim of the Blair Witch’s possession (and in whose basement the first film’s unforgettable final scene takes place), and start dissecting the videotape they do have to try and figure out what happened that night.
What makes it even more confusing is that, unlike the first film (let’s face it, Joshua Leonard was the only person to come out of that movie with a career), Book of Shadows has a ridiculous cast. Stephen Turner (Seducing Charlie Barker). Erica Leerhsen (Mozart and the Whale). Kim Director (Inside Man). Tristine Skyler (Cadillac Man). Lanny Flaherty (Signs). The list goes on. Ironically, this may point to one of the potholes the movie hit—whereas Myrick and Sánchez specifically sought out inexperienced/first-time actors, the casting team for this movie went for already-established actors, which hamstrings the whole “we have no idea who these people are” gig. It’s obvious Berlinger and co. still wanted to play on it, however, since they used the same tactic of having the actors use things close to their real names. It seems a little thing, but it shows that somewhere during the development process, a lack of thoughtfulness about the movie’s direction crept in. And the finished product shows you just how dangerous that sort of thing can be. Barely coherent, unsure whether it wants to be a horror film or a mundane murder mystery, with odd moments that look as if they were shot by rank amateurs (that stand out far more in a film as otherwise well-shot as this one); it’s presented nicely, but little else. *
Trailer… official, even!