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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Starring Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen, Lanny Flaherty
Screenplay by Jon Bokenkamp, Neal Marshall Stevens, Joe Berlinger, Dick Beebe
Based on The Blair Witch Project movie
Directed by Joe Berlinger

This review by Paul Fischer who also filed StarTalk with director Joe Berlinger and stars Jeff Donovan and Erica Leerhsen. Cranky's review here

In present day Burkittsville, after the events chronicled in The Blair Witch Project, four young people have signed up for a tour of the Black Hills, the latest Blair Witch-inspired money-maker dreamed up by Jeff Patterson, a black sheep townie with a murky past. They set up camp near the foundation of the house that belonged to Rustin Parr, the old hermit who was hanged for the murders of seven children, a crime that bore the mark of the Blair Witch. In the morning, the campers awake with no memory of having gone to sleep and five hours stolen from their lives. The return to Jeff's residence, an abandoned 19th Century warehouse at the edge of Burkittsville, to try to piece together what happened. But the strange occurrences haven't ended with that night.

The major problem one has in reviewing Book of Shadows, a pseudo-sequel to Blair Witch Project, is to convince those of us who loathed the original, to check out a film that stands apart as a finely executed horror film in its own right. What a dilemma the poor marketing folks will have in selling this film! Having said that, Book of Shadows is a far more interesting and cerebral exercise in cinematic horror than the original hoped for. Cleverly, director Joe Berlinger uses the first film as a way in, but once in the door, the sequel becomes his own original work. To begin with, Book of Shadows is partly conventional horror, with all the trademarks of the genre in place. But Berlinger goes much further, commenting as he does on the very nature of cinema, the role of media and mass hysteria, and the function of video as a tool for recording events. At one crucial point in the film, Jeff, the tour leader, says that movies lie but video doesn't. That is the thematic crux of a film that remarks on the power of film versus the integrity of video, and it's a fascinating premise which makes sense during the film's closing sequences.

As intellectual an exercise this is, Book of Shadows retains resonances of contemporary horror, and there are some sequences that work better than others. When Berlinger heightens tension and mood through silence and eerie tone, his film has an unnerving creepiness to it. Where he falls apart is his extraneous use of violent imagery which becomes an unnecessary device catering for today's youth. Naturally Berlinger claims that depicting violence enhances his commentary on the impact of cinematic violence on society. It can be argued that is something of a stretch.

Performances are solid, especially amongst the women who have their moments in the sun - or out of it as the case may be. Technically, Shadows is vastly superior to the original which remained an awkward work at best. Berlinger's visual style is far more expansive and cinematic, and it remains a beautifully crafted work.

Book of Shadows is a far better film than one realises when watching it. It is an intelligent, sub textual piece that has much to say about cinematic convention and the impact of popular culture. Far more than a routine horror film, it rises above one's expectations, and remains a thoughtful and engrossing work.

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