Obviously any sequel to The Blair Witch Project is only going to emphasize the sui generis aspect of the original film. An ultralow-budget phenomenon, BW1 revived the aesthetic of famed early ’40s horror film producer Val Lewton, the idea that the shadowy and suggestive can evoke the deepest terrors, and gussied it up with vid-cam immediacy and a needlessly elaborate backstory. It was a clever sliver of a film that rode on a tsunami of hype and a lot of people ate it up.
The monetary success of the film made a sequel inevitable, but since BW1’s unique style was a source of much of its appeal — and notoriety — any duplication of its approach would be anticlimactic. On the other hand, expanding the premise into the realm of the conventional modern horror film would most likely disappoint as well, unless somebody could come up with a really killer script. And guess what, folks — apparently nobody could.
Book of Shadows starts with a brief bow to its predecessor in the form of a faux documentary wherein some denizens of Burketsville, Md., vent their displeasure at how their little burg has become a tourist haunt for the manufactured witch’s geeky fans. But the film quickly shifts to a nouvelle old-dark-house mode, with a cross section of disaffected young people being put through the wringer, first in the woods, then in a sort of bunker-warehouse. The movie has all the familiar accouterments of a mildly entertaining horror film — red herrings, shock cuts, a diminishing cast, a lot of blood and a series of inexplicable events which suggest a mystery that’s going to be solved.
Unfortunately, the shifting points of view between the film we’re watching and the contradictory videos we see within the film are a potentially interesting concept that nobody involved with the movie seems to have had a clue as to how to develop. Book of Shadows isn’t terrible, if you like this sort of thing, but it does end up being a long trip to nowhere, without the enhancing novelty angle of its famous forerunner.