The horror of sequels

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Of course it’s going to be difficult to follow up with something as good as the original $30,000 Blair Witch Project, but it must have been even harder to consciously make it this bad. Were other forces at work?

The $10 million sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, at least opens with some gusto. Various interviews with the citizens of Burkittsville about the havoc Blair Witch has caused their town are as unsettling as the first film. Are these real citizens? Has the town really been inundated with badly-dressed Marilyn Manson fans?

Cut to the camouflaged Blair Witch Hunt van, where Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan – so is this like, really Jeff?!) is taking his first tourist group on a camping tripout to the site where the original Blair Witch tapes were found. Flashbacks reveal Jeff thrashing about in a padded cell during a stint at a psychiatric hospital. There’s Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner) and his pregnant girlfriend Tristen (Tristen Skyler), who are researching a book called Blair Witch Project: Hysteria or History?, Erica (Erica Leerhsen), who practises Wicca, and intuitive goth Kim (Kim Director) who "just thought the original movie was cool".

Things get a little eerie when Jeff is convinced an old tree has materialized where previously there was nothing. The others think he’s just trying to scare them, and set up camp for a night of drinking and smoking things they shouldn’t be. Another tourist group arrives, but the original gang pretend they’ve seen something scary at Coffin Rock, so the new group heads off there instead.

Next thing it’s morning, the cameras are gone, and all of Stephen and Tristan’s notes are strewn across the campsite – but the tapes are mysteriously buried, intact. Tristan miscarries her baby during the shock of finding things in such a mess – or is there another force at work? – and they all trundle off to hospital while she gets treated.

Then they head back to Jeff’s place, an old factory that is only reached by an unstable bridge that spans a deep gorge below, to watch the tapes. They discover there’s a missing five hours on the tapes, and in the mean time, things are getting strange. Hallucinations and strange dreams keep everyone on edge, and the flash forwards to the group being interviewed by a really annoying sheriff (Lany Flaherty) prompt the question: What is it that they’ve done? They’ve had an orgy, for a start, but to see that the tapes have to be played in reverseā€¦

The motif of cameras and film, kicked off in the original in a much simpler and classier way by the use of hand-held cameras, is sustained in the sequel, but it’s all a bit forced. Hey, everyone’s got a handycam! Hey, Jeff’s set up a stack of cameras so they can see if anything is really going to happen while they’re not looking! Hey, Jeff’s got cameras in his house! Hey, "video tells the truth but film lies"! The film’s ending makes the utterer want to eat those words, but was that all the film was about? Apparently yes.

Director Joe Berlinger, the brains behind a much nobler effort, the documentary My Brother’s Keeper, should have known better. He also should have said "Cut!" a lot more frequently and demanded that his cast actually try to act. There are some really bad lines in this film; so bad, in fact, that it’s worth seeing just to see how horrifically Hollywood can stuff up in making sequels. That’s where the real horror of this film lies.

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