The Blair Witch Project was undoubtedly the most profitable movie ever made, so it should have shocked no one that a sequel was inevitable, yet fans of the original still cried foul and chose to dismiss this rather ingenious little character study disguised as a mainstream horror film. If Book of Shadows is viewed as a bad sequel, well, I think that is exactly what writer/director Joe Berlinger was aiming for. Through it's own wicked subversiveness Book of Shadows works it's magic and becomes a sometimes funny, often times frightening and very disturbing tale of disillusioned people so intent on injecting the fantastic into their lives that they are willing to see, hear, and do anything to make it happen.
It's the height of Blair Witch mania, and thousands of fans and curious folk are flocking to the small town of Burkitsville, Maryland in hopes to find evidence that the witch from the film exists. Jeff (Donovan), who's Blair Witch obsession has more to do with the quick buck than an interest in the occult, takes a group of tourists out into the woods where the movie was filmed in hopes of capturing the witch on tape. His "tour's" clients each have their own agenda; Tristine (Skyler) and Stephen's (Baker Turner) research for a book on hysteria, lovely wiccan Erica's (Leerhsen) hopes to communicate with the witch, and Goth "Psychic" Kim (Director) who came along because she "thought the movie was cool".
The quintet camp out in the woods, have a brief encounter with a rival tour group, and drink and party until they pass out, and awaken to find that at some point in the evening all of their property was destroyed, including Jeff's cameras. However, the tapes remain, and what they find on them is more terrifying than the Blair Witch herself.
Berlinger's film could have easily been it's own movie, eschewing the original's premise, and been better off for it. The original Blair Witch fans discounted this movie as a slick "Hollywood" sequel, while those who hated the original ignored it altogether, which is a shame, because BOT is something of a minor miracle given the pressure there was to follow-up on the hype of it's predecessor. Instead of producing a carbon copy of TBWP, Berlinger crafted a very unsettling tale of human beings cracking under the stress of extraordinary events; events which may, or may not have even occurred, and reacting with violence, hysteria, and denial.
When I first saw Book of Shadows in the theatre, I left physically and mentally shaken. This doesn't happen to me often, but the film actually disturbed me on a level few films have, because the monster in this movie isn't a witch, a werewolf, a vampire or a hockey mask wearing machete wielding psycho-path; The monster is within us. It is our fear and anger, our curiosity and obsession, and ultimately it is our age old need to point the finger at the fantastic and blame it for all of our shortcomings, crimes and insecurities. The Devil made us do it, because, after all, we're only human.
Fuck the Blair Witch 2 stigmata that curses this film and just look at it on it's own terms. I think many of those who hated the original will actually find a lot to enjoy here, and for those who loved the original, set aside your expectations and let Berlinger's story unfold. If you get half as creeped out as I did, then he's done his job.
As far as supplements are concerned, we get a decent batch of stuff here, especially if you like the music from the movie, which is featured on the flipside of the disc. The commentary by Berlinger is pretty venomous, leading one to believe that he wanted to take this movie a LOT further than the producers would allow. There is also a wierd little "game" where you play the movie through once and then revisit certain scenes and they are digitally altered with "clues" to help solve the mystery of The Book of Shadows, but, to be honest, I didn't really do much more than press a button or two before I got bored and put on The Simpsons. And, of course, there are the illustrious cast and crew bios and theatrical trailers we all know and love. Much like the original film, this DVD has a wealth of extras to round out the package.
Watch this one with an open mind!!!