A Look Back At: Book Of Shadows - Blair Witch 2
@Theevilbread looks back...
With the unbelievable success of The Blair Witch Project, it wasn't long before the sequel train began running its engine. How do you even come up with a sequel idea for such a film though? Perhaps it will follow the search for the missing film students with another group of people or a look back at Rustin Parr and his crimes in the 1940's? Hell, maybe it'll be a period prequel focusing on Elly Kedward herself and how she came to be The Blair Witch, these are pretty safe ideas for sequels, right?
No, the sequel to The Blair Witch Project went the way of Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Scream.
It went meta.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was released in 2000 and directed by Academy Award winning documentary film maker, Joe Berlinger, just one short year after the release of the original. Blair Witch 2 follows a group of fans of the film as they seek out the myth themselves. That's right, The Blair Witch Project was just a film in the sequel, but the legend of Elly Kedward and the surrounding mythology is still sort of true. Makes sense...kinda?
I'm going to describe the plot outline as basic as possible because I still don't know what the hell is going on in this film after multiple viewings sixteen years later, the editing and narrative is so desultory it could cause headaches. Spoiler alert, despite being the tagline, there isn't even a damn Book of Shadows in this film!
So they try to go realistic but at the same time the original film is fictional, sort of. The Blair Witch exists as a real legend in this film however they tip toe around the idea of the original film being a work of fiction, heavily implied through news reports and talk show clips showboating its popularity and impact on pop culture. This film deals with the aftermath of the Blair Witch phenomena created by The Blair Witch Project. There are some interesting short segments exploring the town of Burkittsville, Maryland being overrun with tourists and fans, we even explore some residents who have resorted to making a living from this with good old merchandising and exploitation. This is factual, by the way, the town was overrun after the original release, it would've been more interesting to explore that angle, not as a singular film but even its own Never Sleep Again type of documentary.
Anyway, the tradition of actors sharing the names with their characters still follows, at least the first names. All these characters follow the typical millennium horror archetypes. We have film buff (of course) Jeff who was committed to a mental institution a few years back, Stephen and Tristen who are writing a book on the whole phenomenon, wiccan Erica and token millennium Goth chick Kim (they have to get that coin from fans of The Craft). They go on the first 'Blair Witch Hunt' tour organised by Jeff to explore the Black Hills forest and see if they can find anything, exploring locations from the film, of course filming the whole thing as a documentary. They black out at one point and wake up to shredded manifests and broken camera equipment, however, the tapes are in working condition and found in the same area where Heather Donahue's footage was apparently found. Again, still not entirely clarified if the original events happened or not. What follows is a sequence of often randomised and 'GOTCHA!' shots until we find out what really happened when they blacked out. Was it the witch, was it hysteria?
Hell, I still don't even know.
It's worth noting that Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick (who created The Blair Witch Project, sorry to have excluded your names in the original article, guys) had little to nothing to do with this film and oh boy, it shows. The Blair Witch Project was acclaimed universally for its guerrilla filmmaking and you would think that despite having a larger budget, they'd try to capture that same feel for inconsistency, right? Wrong. This film reeks of Hollywood-fuck up horror. Remember the chilling and simple opening of the original? This time we're flying over the Black Hills forest (in what I can only assume is stock footage) rocking out to Marilyn Manson's 'Disposable Teens'. The biggest problem with this film is how it was clearly tampered with to hell and back by the studio heads, you could've made a pretty interesting meta-sequel had it enough time to develop but that's never the case (right Warner Bros.?).
Now, this isn’t quite the worst film of all time that I’m making it out to be, there are some redeeming qualities. For one, I absolutely love the soundtrack for this film, it has that whole late 90’s hardcore rock/goth music going on.
An interesting aspect to point out is the inclusion of something called the Secrets of Esrever on the DVD, basically this was a special feature that mirrored a specific plot point where you had to watch a video backwards and it would spell out keywords, for example, ‘RUG’. Then you would have to find a point in the film where this key word would apply and pay special attention because in an almost Kubrick-like way, the scenery would change between shots, such as a pentagram arranging itself and disappearing. After finding this specific point a word would then be revealed and if you managed to decipher them all, it would spell out a message from the Blair Witch herself.
There are some clever hints to the mythology also, if you pay close enough attention, so at least they did their homework when it came to searching up the backstory. One of my favourite blink-and-miss moments is one of the characters goes to buy beer from a convenience store and there’s a man who looks oddly like Rustin Parr fixing a refrigerator who says “I’m finally finished.”.
My biggest problem with this film stems from how unnecessary it is, it really should’ve been given some further time to boil in production before even being attempted, it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself when it comes to horror, studio greed and rushed sequels. You can literally see the interjected reshoot scenes that are rushed and crammed into the narrative to try and make it more cohesive. The shooting style of the original film is abandoned for an omni-present third person camera with interjected found footage shots whenever the script requires it.
I’m particularly cruel to Blair Witch 2 because it spelled the end of the franchise right up until recently. When I saw the trailer for Adam Wingard and Simon Barett’s The Woods, I nearly had an aneurysm with excitement! Even if this wasn’t a Blair Witch sequel, it looked like a spiritual successor and I was willing to take that after such a long time of silence.
Well, imagine my surprise when it was revealed that this was a secret sequel to The Blair Witch Project! A direct sequel set in the canon of the original film’s universe!
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe, I’m expecting it to be a part reboot but from the early buzz, particularly, the final act, this might be the second chance that we’ve all been waiting on.
The witch is back!