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'Blair Witch 2': Too Clever by Half

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2000

   


    'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2' It's back to Burkittsville for more kids who never learn in "Blair Witch 2." (Artisan Entertainment)
At the risk of losing all rights to watch MTV, tattoo my body or download Napster, I must confess: I have sat through "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" and I'm neither bewitched nor blown away.

"The Blair Witch Project" wasn't just a big hit. It was a generational event, the "Alice's Restaurant" of its targeted, twenty-something audience. It didn't really matter what happened, although it did have some genuinely scary high points. It just mattered that moviegoers could identify with the student filmmakers who – the movie tried to have us believe – really disappeared in Burkittsville, Md., while tracking the Blair Witch.

Writer-director Joe Berlinger, who made the excellent documentary "Brother's Keeper," doesn't want to make a scareflick that continues the story. Instead, he and fellow writer Dick Beebe go for a provocative semi-treatise on the Blair Witch phenomenon itself. "Book of Shadows" is as postmodern as postmodern can be, with irony and media-consciousness informing almost every moment.

As the movie opens, we see that Burkittsville has become a tourist trap for fans of the movie. The locals are getting tired of kids traipsing through town, asking them questions about the witch and rushing off to the cemetery.

Local resident Jeff Patterson (Jeff Donovan), who has already made a killing selling Blair artifacts over the Internet, has just thought of another moneymaking scheme: taking people on tours of the Black Hills.

Signing up for this maiden tour (and unaware they're the first ones), their video cameras at the ready, are four kids, all fixated on the "The Blair Witch Project."

They are grad students Tristen (Tristen Skyler) and Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), who are writing a book about – you guessed it; Kim (Kim Director) a card-carrying Goth with psychic abilities; and Erica (Erica Leerhsen), a sort of dude generation's Wiccan, who's upset at the original movie's depiction of her fellow witches.

Jeff and his group camp at the site of Rustin Parr's house. Parr's an old hermit who, in the 1940s, was blamed and hung for killing seven children. Many people suspect Parr's crime was really the work of the Blair Witch.

The tourists are determined to stay awake, so they can witness the weird stuff that's supposed to happen around these parts. But they suffer a collective memory blackout, unable to account for five hours of the evening.

Jeff leads them to his video-editing crib, an abandoned 19th century warehouse, where they can scrutinize the video and piece together what just happened to them.

Well, they get the freaky things they were looking for. Bizarre symbols appear on their skin. Mysterious dogs bark outside the door, only to disappear. Tristen suffers disturbing dreams. And so on.

But when their extensive collection of video footage, which also includes activity before and after the blackout, seems to falsely implicate them as murderers, they start to ask themselves: How much is real, and how much are they creating themselves?

Perhaps Berlinger's savvy, meta-Blair approach was inevitable, given the enormous publicity around the original movie.

But the problems are many. For one thing, getting profound about "Blair Witch" is like taking a deep dive in a wading pool. That could really hurt. And besides that, the execution isn't quite up to the movie's ambition, especially with an ineffective, film-noir flashback structure, in which detectives interview the principal characters about what really happened. It's kind of cheesy, to be honest.

Thanks to the movie's self-referential, occasionally lampooning tone, there isn't a moment when you lose yourself in the story. You're always aware that this is the Blair Witch sequel. This pretty much destroys any chance of being scared by the actual scary stuff. The result: We're only a little spooked, only a little amused and, by extension, only a little entertained. In the end, "Book of Shadows" is too flip and hip for its own good.

"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (R, 90 minutes) – Contains violence, nudity, drug use and bad language.

 

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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