Four young tourists interested in the history of the Blair Witch arrive in Burkittsville, Maryland. Along with their tour guide, they head off into the Black Hills to visit the locals seen in the original movie. Their tour guide brings along several cameras to document anything they might find, but they don’t end up doing him much good. When the five of them wake up the next morning their campsite is trashed, the cameras (but not the film) are destroyed and no one seems to have any recollection of what happened the previous night. The rest of the movie is spent trying to piece together the five travelers missing hours.
And my, what a set of missing hours they were.
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows is almost a textbook case of how not to make a sequel. Everything about the film is fundamentally different from its predecessor. The films tone, atmosphere, story, art direction, sound direction – all of it are a complete 180 from the first film. The only reason I say that it’s almost a textbook case is that they did manage to cram… I’m gonna guess, about five minutes of documentary style footage into the whole thing. Beyond that, Blair Witch 2 is shot as a traditional horror movie.
With one single close-up about as close to the original as you get.
The acting here ranges from passable to “I think I can see them reading off a cue card,” which doesn’t help the film get into the good graces of the viewer, who’s most likely already put off by the other dramatic changes from the first movie. Not that the acting in the first film was Oscar worthy or anything, but it certainly felt more genuine than this.
It also doesn’t help that the characters all come off as annoying twats with poor judgment skills (Oh, you’re upset that she miscarried? What the hell? Where was this concern five minutes ago when she sitting next to you drinking and smoking everything within reach, huh?).
To be fair, this is an affliction that plagues many a horror movie character, but there seemed to be a much higher propensity for ‘stupid-itis’ cases here than per the usual.
Now, now. Don’t cry. It’s not your fault. You were just written that way.
That said, I actually liked the movie. Sure it’s got a 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I honestly didn’t think it was that bad. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way saying this film was successful in what it was trying to achieve, but it does have its moments. The story is serviceable and moves at a brisk pace (though I think some scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor), the psychological elements are a nice touch and the whole thing just has a darkly humorous tone that I rather enjoy.
Its biggest sin is that it’s just not scary. The film is so ‘traditional’ that all the suspense feels familiar and even the twist at the climax doesn’t garner much more than a shrug and a ‘bummer.’
The second biggest sin is that there is no “book of shadows.” You lied to me, you bastards.
Poor Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows never had a chance. While the first one was an indie darling, the second had so much studio meddling that it killed any chance it might have had to fly out of the nest and become its own full-fledged franchise. I know those poor little studio executives just want to help by making films more marketable, but every time I hear that I’m reminded of a phrase that starts with “The Road to Hell…” Perhaps if Blair Witch 2 had been left in the hands of its rather competent director or even if it had had been its own stand-alone film with no connection to the first Blair Witch, than it would have fared better. But all the drastic changes from the original mark it for disdain, which is quite sad, as it’s really a rather interesting commentary on internet culture before anything like that became popular. Ah well, at least now if you want a better Blair Witch sequel you have the 2016 film to look towards. It’s at least got a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Still, if you enjoy psychological horror films than there’s worse way to spend an hour and a half. Just make sure you set your expectations at reasonable levels.
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows is available on a variety of streaming services.
The movie is also available on DVD.