With the massive success, financially and culturally, of The Blair Witch Project, rights-holders Artisan Entertainment sought immediately to capitalize on Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s slow burn art-horror. Though tapping actual documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills), the studio counter-intuitively decided to make a proper film. Perhaps they sensed the found footage approach could work only the once, and wished to avoid repetition? In any case, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 starts as a meta-commentary on its predecessor: in the wake of Blair Witch Project‘s release, a cottage industry springs up in the Maryland town its folk-myth centered on, providing guided tours for thrill-seekers who come to annoy the locals and gawp at the last known whereabouts of Heather, Mike, and Josh (a clever intersection with the real world). Local bad boy Jeff (and you know he’s bad, because his hair is spiky) starts his own tour guide company, taking two academics, a goth, and a Wiccan into the hills and woods in the hopes of encountering something spooky.
This setup quickly gives way, however, to a messy, but ultimately rote, horror flick. Berlinger’s original plan was for the events to unfold ambiguously, leaving the question of his characters’ sanity intact. Artisan edited and reshot the film to include more violence and a contemporary rock soundtrack. While it’s hard to say how much of Berlinger’s vision is in the film, Blair Witch 2‘s idea of psychological horror–glossy, MTV-edited montages of things which may or may not have occurred while the glamored actors give puzzled looks–is indistinguishable from any of its genre contemporaries. The Blair Witch herself seems to have changed her methodology: no longer content to skulk about in the darkness leaving omens of doom for her prey, she’s now apt to random bouts of possession, willing her victims into murder and blood orgies, aborting babies, then shredding or manipulating the evidence. Or it’s all the group’s collective hysteria. Maybe. The dime-store head games grate, rather than terrify, because the manipulation is blatant and the cast are a bunch of ciphers, killing time in a shack until the credits roll for no reason other than they’re in a horror movie.