By Adam Donato
After the exponential success of The Blair Witch Project, Artisan Entertainment expedited a sequel despite the lack of support of Haxan Films and the original directors. That always works out, right? Unfortunately, although deservedly, the film was a critical failure. The film even underperformed at the box office as the $15 million dollar budget only produced a $47 million dollar worldwide gross. Seeing as the first movie made almost $250 million on a $60,000 budget, they rushed a sequel to capitalize on box office popularity, and in doing so, sacrificed the quality of the film. All of this points to the film being rightfully forgotten in the history of bad horror sequels. The problem: there is a good movie somewhere in there.
The sequel was given to documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger. In his defense, there are a lot of good ideas in this movie. The plot acts as if the first movie exists in their world. It opens with real news footage about the movie and transitions into staged interviews of the “real” citizens of Burkittsville talking about the impact of the movie on their town. All of the characters in the main group are interesting in their own way. There’s a town native basket-case, who is capitalizing on the Blair Witch by selling merchandise and is the host of the Blair Witch Hunt they go on. A couple is researching the Blair Witch but from opposing perspectives as the man is a skeptic and the woman is a believer. Tagging along is an actual Wicken, who is disgruntled by the negative exposure of her religion depicted in The Blair Witch Project. The last is a goth psychic, who is just a big fan of the movie. This is a diverse group of personalities and watching them slowly descend into madness as they argue about their perspective on the witch makes this group more memorable than your average horror movie.
The studio wanted a more mainstream horror movie than Berlinger was trying to make. They forced the police interviews of the characters to be sporadically placed throughout the movie, instead of all at the beginning and the end, which is what Berlinger wanted. Also sporadically placed throughout the movie is flashback shots of the group murdering people in the woods. Berlinger said this ruins the ambiguous tone of the movie, which it does. It’s clear that Berlinger wanted to make less of a commercial/standard horror movie, and more of a meta, in-depth psychological thriller. He was trying to say something about the willingness of people to believe in the first movie. It’s a bold idea to go from a documentary-style found footage movie to a more traditional narrative feature that is about documentary-style found footage.
This review is a retrospective, which is interesting since the franchise has made moves since. Instead of moving forward with another sequel in the franchise, the studio decided to forget about the movie and make a “force awakens” type of reboot/sequel called Blair Witch. The film is basically a beat-for-beat copy of the original plot, besides the motivation for going into the woods. The brother of Heather Donahue still believes his sister is in the woods and wants to go find her with his friends. That is a bad idea for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that it’s been almost 20 years. The connection to the first movie is weak. In hindsight, the idea of making a sequel where The Blair Witch Project movie exists and we get to see the Mets ramifications from all different types of perspectives is brilliant. Hate the sequel for being a cheesy early 2000’s horror movie, but at least it was trying to be something new.
In a lot of ways, some more intentional than others, the movie is a riot. All of the characters are absolutely ridiculous as they heavily lean into stereotypes. The sheriff of Burkittsville is always upset in the most “over it” kind of way. Every single one of the haunted town members is insane people. The early 2000’s soundtrack is obnoxious in the best way possible. Call it a bad movie if you want, but it can be considered so bad that it’s good.
Ambition in movies should be encouraged. The entire concept of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is wild and there are so many good ideas inside. It just hurts to see the movie not be allowed to be what it was trying to be. While it isn’t all for nothing, the studio deserves the negative response this sequel got, but not the director. There’s a great movie in there and the glimpses of its greatness are worth being remembered. Pour one out for yet another creator having their art be tampered with in the name of corporate greed.
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.