The original movie was a cool joke America decided to play on itself. The Blair Witch Project, which last year earned a huge $140 million on a teeny $30,000 budget, was not by any stretch a great film. It was a clever prank, brilliantly peddled, that played on primal fears. And everyone had to be a part of it. Let's be scared by a horror movie with no visible monster. Let's convince ourselves it's real. Like kids in the dark, let's pretend.
But who would want to play the same joke twice, or be the butt of it? Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 arms a new bunch of young people with video cameras, throws them into the Maryland woods and lets hysteria ensue. The notion of director Joe Berlinger and writer Dick Beebe is that the five new recruits (Jeffrey Donovan, Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Erica Leerhsen and Kim Director) know the first film was fake and are cynical of the industry built around it, yet get sucked into the legend. Then everyone goes nuts--this time with flash cuts and gross-out special effects. An all-in-the-mind thriller degenerates into the Linda Blair Witch Project.
Berlinger, who has co-directed true-crime documentaries in rural settings (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost), juxtaposes the real with the surreal, whatever those words mean in a fictional spin-off of a pseudo documentary. BW2 ends in a delirious ambiguity, which can be solved by the maxim "Films lie; video tells the truth." But few movies have spread their fibs or facts as clumsily as this one. There's not an emotionally plausible moment in the picture. If Berlinger thinks he's commenting on media sensation--and not trying to exploit it--then the joke's on him.
--By Richard Corliss