October 29, 2000 -- "The Blair Witch Project" was a remarkable success story of a low-budget film, cleverly marketed on the Internet, that wound up being a big box-office hit. The sequel, "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows" shows some of the suspense-building promise of the original. Like the original, it lacks a payoff, but unlike the original it gets lost in an overly vague plot with too many changes of perspective to be believable or compelling.
Changes of perspective is a technique used to make "The Usual Suspects" an entertaining movie. "Blair Witch 2" also offers up various versions of reality. Which one is the real version? The film won't say. After repeated viewing of video tapes of the same event, each showing different versions of the event, we begin to stop caring. Is this a tale of the supernatural, or is it a story of group hysteria and madness? The film doesn't commit to one path or the other. It tries to have it both ways.
The constant repetition of a knife being plunged into a person's abdomen and twisted is sickening, and in the end, pointless. It is merely one of many intercut images which may, or may not have any bearing at all on what really happened in the story. This constant fence-sitting on the question of the supernatural or natural causes of murder seems to rob the film of its power to involve the audience and draw it in to the story. It is even tough to get at just what the story is, besides a series of murders. The film doesn't seem to want to commit to a story so much as it hints there is a story somewhere in those videos and in what remains of the sanity of the survivors.
Like the first film, however, "Blair Witch 2" uses documentary-type footage to set the stage for the story. A hardy group of adventurers heads into the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland where the original story took place. This camping trip is a paid tour based on the popularity of the original movie. Grad students Tristen Ryler (played by Tristen Skyler) and Stephen Ryan Parker (played by Stephen Barker Turner) are writing a book about the Blair Witch. Kimberly Lynn Diamond, a strange person of the Goth persuasion (played by Kim Director) fancies herself a psychic. Erica Geerson (played by Erica Leerhsen) is a witch practicing the Wiccan religion. The tour guide, with no experience, is former mental patient Jeffrey Patterson (played by Jeffrey Donovan).
You probably noticed the names of the characters in the movie are similar to the real names of the actors. The original film was almost like an urban legend. Incredibly, some people thought the original film was about real people who actually died. Giving the characters names very similar to the actors real names seems to be a way of having a little fun with the fans of the original film. In fact, the whole project seems to be a bit of a satire on the mythos of the original film.
The band of explorers camp inside the very foundations of a what used to be the home of Rustin Parr, a man who was hanged for the murders of seven children. This turns out to be a big mistake. They wake up the next day to find their notes shredded and their cameras smashed. As they replay the videos to try to figure out what happened, they find more and more disturbing evidence that they may have done something horrible they can't remember during five "missing" hours that night.
Theoretically, what took place at the campsite could be explained by science, but it is close to impossible. For instance, the campers wake up to little pieces of paper falling on them, their shredded notes. It is possible the campers shredded the paper themselves, then threw them into the air, then quickly went to sleep and forgot about it, waking up again before the pieces of paper hit the ground, but that is nearly impossible, to put it mildly. This makes a supernatural explanation more likely. The rest of the film consists of false memories, video tapes that seem to tell a different story every time they are played, and people undergoing severe personality shifts. This is not a character-driven plot. It has an arbitrary feel to it.
Aside from the above-mentioned stabbing scenes and a few others, the movie is not all that violent. There is some nudity. The movie isn't really about violence and it isn't about sex either. It is more of a psychological drama. It is disturbing in that it causes you to question your own version of reality as you are drawn into this strange group madness. The very loud rock musical score is disturbing in a different way. Metaphorically, it sides with the "Lord of the Flies" view that the veneer of civilization and morality is thinner than we care to admit, and that the murdering, primordial beast lies just below the surface. The movie also hints that there is a terrible price to be paid for the hubris of thinking you can toy with such monstrous evil, examine it, roll it around in your mind, prod it and manipulate it, without being corrupted by it. On the other hand, the movie may not be that profound. Maybe it is just vague enough to seem profound. It rates a C.
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