Published at: Oct. 16, 2000, 2:06 a.m. CST by headgeek
About a week ago I received a call from a publicist at
Artisan saying that they wanted to set up a screening
of BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 for me
today, Sunday, and they were going to bring Joe
Berlinger in to talk to me as well. And they asked if I
was open to this.
Well, this was a proverbial bag of worms. My history
with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is well
documented... Many attach me and AICN with some
level of the success of the first film. Some people
don’t trust my opinion on the first film because I
loved it so much... But what some of these people
never understood was that the original BLAIR
WITCH PROJECT was never a film that was meant
to be as BIG a release as it wound up getting.
A film like the original, is on the surface this
wonderfully amateurish seeming Art house fare that
has the basic mythos concept that deserves to be
picked up for a larger more professional film. But as
someone that loves Art House films, experimental
cinema and old style William Castle promotion and
P.T. Barnum showmanship... I loved the first film and
the whole experience that went with it.
At the same time, since then I’ve had conversations
with horror filmmakers that have loved it (William
Friedkin) and really really didn’t like it (John
Carpenter) and well... I’m unswayed... I still like the
BUT... The second film... all of the hype following
the original has created an air where we WANT and
NEED to hate a sequel.
When Artisan announced they were going to make a
modern day followup film to the events that occurred
in the first film... I gagged. Horrible fucking idea.
Then they attached Joe Berlinger. Great idea.
So I was at a weird place for this film. Everything
about the concept that I could glean from the
publicity and pre-release materials and trailers were
saying PIECE OF FUCKING SHIT.
And then there was Joe Berlinger, who has made 3 of
the absolute most journalistically sound and brilliant
documentaries that had not only great stories, but
through the filming and pacing... were actually
chilling, haunting and really... quite scary.
Now, having experienced the terrible marketing of
WAY OF THE GUN by Artisan earlier this year... I
completely discounted the SCREAM/I KNOW
WHAT YOU DID/URBAN LEGEND style trailer
that I saw... Even though... the mere appearance of
Goth Chick made it seem as though... the only place
this film was going was into the sewer that would take
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC and PIRANHA II:
THE SPAWNING and SCARLET: THE
Well... let me tell you where I was when I saw this
film this morning....
I woke up early this morning and saw a fantastic indie
film called ABCD that I’m going to be presenting at
the AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL tomorrow,
MONDAY, and I was getting set to go to a
comic/memorabilia convention to buy some posters
and then to the film festival when all of the sudden...
THE PHONE RANG...
Caller ID registered the identity to: Glen Oliver. Oh
good, what did Glen want?
“Harry?” Glen said.
“Uh, I thought you were going to see BLAIR WIT...”
“OH FUCK... I’M ON MY WAY OH SHIT!”
So I grab a shirt, slip on shoes no socks... and run
towards the living room screaming for dad to get
“Come on... we’re late for BW2!!!”
“No we aren’t... that’s on Sunday!” Father Geek says.
We lock eyes.
“Oh Shit,” he says grabbing his keys, slipping on the
shoes and we’re on our way laughing at how fucked
up our sense of time and space are given the schedule
of the film festival and such.
We get to the theater about 10 minutes late... spilling
out apologies... and Glen, Dad and I head into this
empty theater to watch the film alone.
NOW FOR THE REVIEW.......
I know that many of you are going to believe... no
matter what I say that Artisan or Berlinger slipped me
3 gold bars from Fort Knox, but... I really loved the
First... This is not BLAIR WITCH PROJECT 2:
SHAKYCAM BOOGALOO. At many many levels
this isn’t even near the same universe or genre or
whatever ya wanna call the first film.
BW2 should not be compared to the first film... nor
should it be included in sentences with the first film.
It is... that much... A different film.
The first film that comes to mind to compare it to in
my mind would have to be Robert Wise’s THE
HAUNTING. Now, while I had fun with Jan De
Bont’s rollercoaster remake... even though I fully
acknowledge the addle-mindedness of the intelligence
of that film... I do feel this is closer in form to that
except that it’s set nearly 40 years later and is made
40 years later and exists in a different stylistic world
than the world that existed in 1963. Also there is an
entire extra layer put down atop BW2 that THE
HAUNTING doesn’t have...
Imagine, if after what had happened at Hill House, if
there had been a police investigation... and if Dr
Markway, Luke and Theodora had to explain to the
police what they experienced in the house... but in
addition the police had a different story via film and
audio recording devices that witnessed the entire
Without too much spoilers being in place... that is the
type of intelligence at work here. Berlinger has
crafted a film that is extremely intelligent... that is
less scary as it is disturbing and unsettling... and
ultimately leaves you with the ability to have two
distinct feelings about what happened. Psychological
or Supernatural... you decide. He merely shows you
the perception and then the perceived reality of
video... but of course... if you believe in the
supernatural... reality of video... just doesn’t exist.
Before I go any further... I have to say... The
following is going to head into deep spoiler territory,
so you may very well want to run screaming into the
hills armed solely with the knowledge that Berlinger
has made a film that you folks that hated the first film
will find intelligent, spooky, well-crafted and good if
you approach it with an open mind. And you folks
that loved the first film... well he advances,
comments, acknowledges and pays tribute to the
power of the mythology that the first film created..
while also commenting and satirizing not only the
fandom and fanaticism that erupted around the first
film, but also takes on and comments upon the
perceived influence of the whole Violence in Art
affecting Reality and Youth... and makes something
unique, different and good enough to stand
completely apart and away from the first film.
Now... go away... I’m going to discuss spoilers and
character profiles and all sorts of deeper material at
play here in BLAIR WITCH 2....
First off, there are two formats that we see in this
film. Video and 35mm Film.
When watching and rewatching the film, notice the
absolute intelligence that Berlinger uses when going
between these two.
It was my belief (confirmed afterwards by Berlinger)
that the 35 mm film footage is the perceived memory
of the events that led up to present in the film. And
that the video/dv footage was in fact reality as seen
through the unchanging eye of the video camera,
which is unswayable by delusion or hysteria or drugs
or alcohol or suggestion.
Nearly the entire film is a flashback... with moments
of the current time and suppressed memories
speckling about like the remnants of some sort of
bizarre nightmare delusion.
You see... at its heart the film is a tale about these 5
people that go off in the Black Hills outside
BURKITSVILLE, MARYLAND to explore and
indulge their obsession with the whole post BLAIR
WITCH PROJECT hysteria regarding the movie and
the mania that swept the country last year.
The film acknowledges that the first movie was a
fiction, a creation and even thumbs its nose at all of
HOWEVER, where this movie goes and what it
explores with a great deal of skill and intelligence is
the group paranoia and hysteria that can come about
through isolation, alcohol and drug abuse as well as
the injection of mild insanity, conflict and
psychologically unsound people.
You see.... Here’s the cast...
First up is Jeff Patterson. He’s an uninsane person.
Ya see, he was committed and locked up in an
institute for the treatment of the mentally unstable...
But... He’s... ahem... all better now. Upon his release
and fanatical love for the film, THE BLAIR WITCH
PROJECT, he assembled a entrepreneurial venture of
selling ‘Blair Witch’ artifacts on EBAY while also
offering BLAIR WITCH HUNT tours up into the
Black Hills to tour such hot locations as Coffin Rock
and Rusty Parr’s alleged home remnants.
Next is Kim Diamond, the goth chick. The mere
inclusion of her in the trailer sent up all my red flags
and beliefs that this film had HAD to be awful.
However, in the formation of the group dramatically
it was not only important to have her, but absolutely
integral. You see, besides being the archetype Goth
Chick... she’s also your friend that believes herself
psychic... though in reality she’s really good a reading
subtle behavior and body postures... while also
having the intelligence to make the connections and
make the next logical step while telling the person
she’s a psychic... though really, she’s a study of
human nature that has self deluded herself into
believing otherwise. She’s perfect to have onto this
group because... well... A Goth chick would go on a
tour like this.
Onto Erica Geerson. Besides being absolutely the
most adorably cute doable chick I’ve seen on film in
quite some time... She’s Wiccan... meaning she’s one
of those folks that believe in the whole.. animal,
vegetable, mineral spirit thing... dance around naked,
be peace, love and happiness embodied and so on and
Then there is the couple, Stephen Parker and Tristen
Ryler, who are on board as researchers for a book
they are writing called BLAIR WITCH: HYSTERIA
OR HISTORY. Stephen is a cynic and believes that
hysteria and mania is feeding the popularity and
sudden belief by those that really do believe in
BLAIR WITCH stuff... and his girlfriend Tristen,
who’s six weeks pregnant with his child, is a
complete believer in that perception is reality and that
the two are not separate because if you perceive
something to be real.... then it is in fact real.
Now... The danger with this group is basically this...
You are looking at a formula for probable disaster.
You have 5 people... who left to their own devices...
separate and not in those woods... would probably
just be fine and ok. BUT... when you have 4 people
being led by someone who has serious mental issues
but believes he is cured.... that has someone believing
absolutely that their perceptions are psychic truths...
and then you have a Wiccan who is casting her little
spells and is very touchy touchy friendly friendly...
and then the provocateurs of the group that are
feeding directly into all of this with their own
non-professional theories and beliefs... And then you
isolate... introduce drugs and serious alcohol abuse....
while directly getting into the whole Blair Witch
methodology... well... you’ll see.
What is even more interesting though... is Berlinger’s
handling of giving these guys footage that speaks
completely of the truth... but when seen by people
that are feeding their own paranoia... the truth is
analyzed as being further evidence of
WITCHCRAFT AND SUPERNATURAL as... well
how else can you explain them doing what they’re
doing... and they’re too entrenched in their own
insecurities to believe THEY COULD’VE DONE
THESE THINGS... so they create delusions and
visions to excuse what they’ve done... and refuse to
accept the videos as truth...
Have you ever seen the news... ever seen one of those
deals where you see kids being arrested for having
killed a couple of friends... and they claim the devil
made em do it... and that they were doing witchcraft
and they were possessed and have no memory of
doing said horrible thing?
Well... this movie is Berlinger’s examination of that
phenomenon as tied to the Blair Witch Project.
All the flashes of gore, dreams of damage... those are
moments in the characters’ minds remembering what
they had done. But they are only flashes and
unfamiliar and alien to them because THEY DON’T
REMEMBER doing it and have suppressed and
buried these memories.
This is real. This happens. People convince
themselves and delude themselves into believing their
own lies to a point that their stories become perceived
Now the characters are not particularly deep because
they are archetypes.... You instantly know these
types... and therefore you understand them instantly..
and it is disturbing as can be when what happens
Does Berlinger cheat? Meaning... does he ever throw
us something that you can point at and say... LOOK...
THERE’S THE BLAIR WITCH!!!! LOOKIE
Ya know, I thought for a second he had. The video
from out on their camping trip is damaged after being
buried and banged around... well it’s a bit shoddy... a
convenience I’ll give you... but not beyond the realm
of believability in the natural suspension of
disbelief... but there is one flash that in a Rorschach
split second seems to be something that
SHOULDN’T BE THERE... but... it is a Rorschach
jumble... that is instantly commented upon by one of
the deluded... and in afterthought, I’m curious to
freeze frame on it myself to check. But the comment
by the person is actually a window into his own
psyche and hazy memory of what happened that
night. And the more I think about this moment... the
more I really dig it.
Now on an aesthetic level... the film is lovely to look
at and not at all the wild running with the camera
through the woods stuff of the first film. There is no
over-exposed foggy lens moments... This is a
professional film being directed by a person that’s
documentary background provided him with an
insight to the type of characters and events that take
place in the film.
This film, I believe, is being terribly mismarketed as
being pabulum for the SCREAM crowd... Beginning
two months ago this should have been being shown..
including at Toronto with Joe in attendance... Now,
they are screening it for people around the country...
that might help some of the damage that the trailers
have done. This isn’t horror... it is psychological
suspense akin to Wise’s THE HAUNTING and that
ol William Shatner TWILIGHT ZONE episode with
the Devil fortune machine (gosh blast it... can’t
remember the episode title)...
After the film Glen came down from the back of the
theater... looked me in the face and said... “That isn’t
the film it’s being made out to be!” Glen liked it, he
felt there were a couple of places where it had pacing
problems... But when I countered with... for this sort
of psychological suspense... you sort of need those
spaces where it seems long to give you the sense of
isolation and forboding sense of doom... Well Glen
did seem to agree. Look for his review sometime
soon over at Film Force.
Dad and I then had to drive over and talk with Joe
Berlinger over lunch... and I had a surprise for him.
You see, Berlinger believed I wasn’t going to like the
film. He had a feeling an intuition. He had called me
a couple of days ago and from that talk I sensed
hesitation in his desire to come here.
When I met him, I could instantly feel his eyes
searching my face for a sign as to whether or not I
liked his film. We were at this Oriental restaurant out
North, here in Austin, called P.F. CHANG’S, I
When I told him... his face relaxed and you could see
this entire sense of exasperation flow away from him.
I was fascinated to find why... having made such a
wonderful film... he felt that I would hate it or not like
it. And basically... it came down to the fact that on
the site, I was saying things like, “I’ve got a baaaaaad
feeling about this!”
I laughed and said, “Oh.. I understand that
completely. I mean sure I was saying... ‘Even though
I have a baaaaad feeling I’m going in with an open
mind,’ I could see how you would think... ‘Yeah
right, he’s out to crucify me’”
My first question to him was where the hell did the
whole BOOK OF SHADOW thing have to do with
His answer? Well, it was about 20 minutes... but had
a lot to do with a combination of Wiccan Diaries, the
shadow existence the character create for themselves
and the stories they tell. Personally whether it is true
or not... I will always believe that some Exec
somewhere came up with it and Joe’s just
interpreting it as best as he can... but who knows...
maybe it really did come from there... but
unfortunately alot of people will leave the film
“Where was the fucking BOOK OF SHADOWS?”
And they won’t listen for 20 minutes while Joe
explains the symbolic and mythic nature and subtext
to the characters that the film stands for... However, if
you do enough reading about the film after the press
junket in Los Angeles tomorrow... I’m sure you’ll
Now... while this isn’t part of the review, I can tell
you that Berlinger has two immediate projects that
he’s working and developing at ARTISAN right
now... One is a remake of THE WICKER MAN
(which is one of the great cult classics which
everyone should be familiar with... go rent it) and
another film based on a true story about a man that...
well, I’ll keep that one for later... hehehe...
The bottom line here is that while I personally don’t
like the film as much as say... Wise’s THE
HAUNTING... I do very much love this movie. What
keeps it from that type of quality is 1. I prefer the
period of THE HAUNTING. 2. There is a certain
ease and serenity to that film that is just magical and
lyrical that is missing here. And lastly 3. That house
was a better set.
Berlinger is a filmmaker that we need to keep an eye
on. He made the film that I was hoping he could
make when his name was very first attached to the
project... and he very deftly steered clear of all of my
fears that could’ve torpedoed this film instantly.
Remember, walk in with an open mind.... the idea that
you at least want to like the film and the movie will
surprise you quite a bit. It is intelligent and smart
filmmaking deserving of your attention and time.