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A Review...

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000.10.27)

Tonight I saw Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

It was good. I would even say it was better than the first movie, The Blair Witch. But I say that only in the ways in which it seems to matter to people who didn’t like the first one. I liked The Blair Witch. I got into the fictional world The Blair Witch was creating. A world where three college students went into the forest to do a documentary on a local witch legend. I watch the special they had on the Sci-Fi Channel which went into more detail about the Blair Witch legend and the news accounts of the missing students (even so far as creating roles for their parents who did not want the movie to be released). I also enjoy that movie technique—whether it’s a new technique or not—where separate media (TV specials, Web sites, etc) are use to further expand the fictional world in which a movie is set.

I enjoyed The Blair Witch. I immersed myself into the fictional world it created to better enjoy the movie experience—by being scared to hell, as much as I was by Scream 2 (which actually did use special effects such as blood and stabbing). Those who didn’t like The Blair Witch complained that it just looked like a group of kids running around in the woods with video cameras. They complained that it made them more sea sick than scared because of all the jerky camera movement. One person I know even said that it looked fake because Heather’s hair never looked dirty.

Yes, it was a group of kids running around in the woods with video cameras. That’s the story of the movie, that these students went to film a documentary, and then they disappeared, and then years later only their video tapes and other belongings were found. Yes there was jerky camera movement because it was supposed to be footage directly from the cameras the students were carrying and running in fear with. And yes, there was no special effects like blood or witches or monsters because this way it leaves it open to doubt. Did the students fake the footage or did something really happen? It’s like Chris Carter said once in an X-Files special about how they don’t scare us by showing us what we’re afraid of, they scare us by not showing us what we’re afraid of. Doubt and uncertainty can be more powerful than knowing absolutes. It’s why people like murder mysteries. It’s the journey filled with uncertainty which people enjoy. If those stories merely consisted of a paragraph stating that a murder happened in a mansion and the butler did it because his wife was cheating on him, then who would bother to even read that. It’s the journey we enjoy because we don’t know how it will end. And it’s the doubt, the questioning, which provides the intensity of the journey. Will Leonardo and Kate make it to a liferaft in Titanic? Will the kids make it out of the kitchen with the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park? This is suspense, our not knowing what will happen, and even more powerful, never truly knowing.

But the doubt in The Blair Witch shouldn’t be whether it was a true story or a Hollywood movie. The doubt should be based on the story the movie told. The doubt should be whether the college students were hunted and killed by the Blair Witch (adding another chapter to that local legend), or whether they simply ran off (starting new lives, changing identities, what have you) and left the footage as a hoax.

And now we come to Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Again this story of the movie (the fictional world which it portrays) tells us that this is based on actual events. The movie (and the TV specials, etc) tells us that, because of all the curiosity and fanaticism the last movie created (people wanting to know if the Blair Witch legend was true and visiting the town it was filmed in), some people became so obsessed with the Blair Witch that a series of murders were committed in the small town of Burkittsville and the surrounding Black Hills Forrest. Unlike The Blair Witch which was the actual footage shot by the students, Book of Shadows is “a dramatization based on a true story” (like so many of those TV movies). Even in Book of Shadows they refer to the first movie as being a Hollywood-created movie, thereby further trying to bestow that this one is based on actual events following the mania created by the first movie.

In Book of Shadows there are special effects. There is blood and killings (though nothing really gory which is good for me since I’m squeamish; it’s mostly shown through quick camera pans and flashes). And most of the movie is shot from an omnipotent viewer’s perspective, and not all by the cameras carried around by the acters. This movie is scary for what it shows. This movie is scary because of the suspense it creates (will a monster come through that door?).

The Blair Witch was good because of the fear of “what’s happening?” Book of Shadows is good because of the fear of “what’s really happening?”

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