"We brought something back with us." - Kim Diamond
Set a year after the release of the original movie The Blair Witch Project, Book of Shadows focuses on the reaction to the first movie. Tourists flocking to Burkittsville, instant local entrepreneurs, and of course the invariable tours to locations used in the first movie. Jeff is a local who runs an online store selling Blair Witch merchandise who is expanding his operation to offer "The Blair Witch Hunt", a tour to the remains of Rustin Parr's house, Coffin Rock etc. Along for the inaugural tour are Kim, a Goth with attitude who dug the original movie, Erica, a Wiccan perpetually pissed off with how the movie has negatively affected her religion, and Stephen and Tristen, two American kids doing the best that they can, life goes on …. oops sorry fell into John Cougar Mellencamp mode there. Stephen and Tristen are actually investigating the Blair Witch legend to see if fact matches fiction for the book they are writing.
So our crew of horror stereotypes, hey where are the stoners, slut, and jock archetypes, call out to Carl Jung there, head into the Black Hills of Maryland to get their Rustin Parr on, you know at the crib where he killed 8 or so kids under the supposed influence of Elly Kedward in the 1940s. Naturally time is fluid and they lose four hours after a night of drinking, drugs, and as it turns out sex. At least they have everything on tape and have some spare time to find out what they did the night before, leaving the viewer wondering if mass delusion is setting in or the Blair witch is up to her usual tricks.
Director Joe Berlinger had plans for a much different movie than the one the Studio post production team came up with, so a whole bunch of hate spewed on the interwebs about Berlinger is pretty much the normal ill-informed wind the modern net is prone to. Berlinger aimed to take the original found footage movie and give it a splash of paint to create a new live action take on the mythology created by Messrs Myrick and Sanchez, which had a willing world ready to believe the usual shite without actual collaborating evidence. Interestingly, and as opposed to the thoughts of the haters back in the day, Book of Shadows stands up a hell of a lot better than The Blair Witch Project does. But, and this is the million dollar question, is the movie actually worth your time resurrecting and viewing?
Berlinger gets his movie out of the station in the weirdest possible fashion; get ready for one hell of a ride. Some dude, who we later identify as tour guide Jeff, is incarcerated in an Asylum suffering the indignities of forced feeding and being washed down with a high pressured hose, to mention the Asylum scenes ring out as completely false and really don't have a lot to do with subsequent events, besides perhaps underlying Jeff isn't exactly on the sane level. But what the scene does establish is that the timeline isn't going to be linear, Book of Shadows jumps around quite a bit which will either enhancing things for you or bring the confusion. Everything does work out eventually but it takes some time to tie all the loose threads together.
Where Berlinger starts to get things rocking is when he demonstrates one of his themes via late night show hosts, footage of the effects of Blair Witch Project on the residents of Burkittsville, and the gradual introduction of leading characters through faux clips and interviews. In case you are wondering the Director is aiming his barbs at the media and its ability to promote mass hysteria and get on board whatever pop culture freight training is currently rumbling down the track. Clearly the locals are enjoying their time in the sun, and making some dollars selling stones and twigs to the gullible, but its another story for the local law trying to enforce some semblance of order. Personally I think Berlinger caught exactly the mood post Blair Witch Project, a mounting combat between apologists and those of us who were caught trying to point out this particular Emperor hadn't seen clothes since the inception of the movie. There's this sort of unhinged mania happening during Berlinger's introduction that really captures the period and the false dawn of belief from those unable to discern fiction from fact.
I was pretty hyped with the introduction of our leads and their quick transition to the woods and possible danger. Almost immediately there was the introduction of unease as Jeff wonders where the hell the tree came from in the middle of Rustin Parr's house, as he logically deduces the house would have had to be built around the tree, which of course makes no sense. Get ready for some playing around with time, slight spoiler here, with things going backwards and forward with no doubt a tad of confusion expected from the viewer. About the only other things of note during this act are the intrusion of a second tour, who are deftly sent to check out Coffin Rock, and of course the lost four hours following a whole bunch of booze and drugs through the evening and early morning. Sidenote here, how exactly did the group manage to haul in what appears to be unlimited amounts of alcohol, any backpacker can attest to the sheer weight involved there.
Things really start to get out of control during the second half of the movie when our potential victims retreat to Jeff's crib, a disused warehouse that contains his Blair Witch merchandise and assorted equipment he buys and sells on eBay. It's at this stage that you start to question what is real and what is simmering away in the minds of our crew who are at best hallucinating, and at worse are experiencing psychological attack. Kim meets Rustin Parr, who is all finished fixing a cabinet at the local convenience store, pretty much most of them get to meet the ghost of I guess Eileen Treacle, a girl who drowned in the legend, and there's Erica and Tristen who steadily fall into heavy influence by the witch, or so we surmise. With this movie expect the unexpected, there's more twists coming at you than you could reasonably expect at a Chubby Checker retro concert.
While the movie starts to resemble a siege narrative, interspersed with the dangers within, there's also a growing concern about who might survive. This is dispersed by cuts to various characters being interrogated post events and being introduced to what actually happened. There are some shocking developments there. So eventually we do find out who survived, but like Sally in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they are definitely going to be psychologically damaged by their experiences.
While it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for readers to be aware of the atmosphere that is going down here, and hey getting confused about what is real, I'm still going to stress that you could cut the atmosphere with a knife here. The Director has this sort of lingering dread happening as he tightens the screws during the final act, okay so folk who like viscera flying left, right, and centre aren't going to be high fiving those of us who like tension filled psychological narratives are going to be all bushy tailed. Everything is textured in washout tones which add to the grungy overall aesthetic that underpins the dark nature of the atmosphere. Of course if we wanted to be all Critical about things we could mention the colour scheme being a reflection of the erosion of people's hold on reality, you know like a waking nightmare, but hey we'll leave that to the college courses of dubious merit.
Guess I'm out of space here, okay a tad over my allotted space if I was honest, so wrapping up like a Christmas Elf. Book of Shadows stands the test of time and taken out of its franchise is a rock solid psychological horror. Forgot to mention that Erica Leerhsen isn't averse to getting her kit off which adds to the festivities. If you love your dark genre bleak, grimy, and psychologically intense then you have the right movie. Book of Shadows uses the mythology from The Blair Witch Project, builds on it, and takes things in a new interesting direction. If needing a road map for this movie then everything is working backwards, the clues are there, but don't expect the movie to give up its secrets on a single viewing, this one should definitely be on repeat. Naturally I'm going to be recommending this witchy outing, settle in for something unsettling folks, let Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 cast its spell over you.