“Video never lies, but film does.” That throwaway line uttered early in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is the key to the entire point of the movie — which is an improvement over its freakishly successful predecessor, The Blair Witch Project. The interest in the original film — generated via an Internet site and other hype designed to make it appear that the events depicted in the Maryland woods were true — combined with the film’s ersatz documentary style, somehow managed to push the Blair Witch Project into a box-office and critical success that begets the inevitable sequel. The irony here is twofold, since not only did the original filmmakers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, turn the writing and directing over to others for the sequel, but the results are a clever, carefully crafted horror film that only works and exists by virtue of its inferior predecessor! As much as anything, the sequel is a commentary on The Blair Witch Project and the furor that surrounded it. The central problem is that the sequel is likely to fall between the cracks: Those who like the original film are apt to find this more traditional approach unsatisfying, while those who didn’t like the original are more likely to just avoid it altogether. The sequel has a real script, well-developed characters, a solid budget and actors (mostly unknown or promoted to star capacity from bit parts) who actually can act. It’s not surprising that the approach has been greeted with some hostility, since it slyly critiques the hype that surrounded the original. The premise this time is Horror Movie 101 at its most serviceable. Former mental patient and Internet entrepreneur Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) escorts a group of sightseers on his newly formed “Blair Witch Hunt” tour, where — since this is a horror film — horrific events start to occur. There’s certainly nothing original at work here, but director/cowriter Joe Berlinger turns this premise into a stylish, acid commentary on the nature of reality and our perception of it — and whether we accept our own senses as much as we accept what we’re shown on videotape. While the film only manages to be somewhat creepy and unnerving, it never manages to quite muster more than a couple of decent shocks. Still, Book of Shadows takes its genre conventions seriously and creates both a compelling atmosphere and a degree of thoughtfulness. The young cast is a distinct help in conveying a sense of conviction — especially Kim Director, who manages to be intelligent and funny in her Goth get-up, while always hinting at the scared kid she’s revealed to be by the end of the film. Book of Shadows isn’t a great film, but it has more merit than you might suspect — as long as you aren’t looking for a replay of The Blair Witch Project.
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