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"Book of Shadows". . .

Blair 2 Tries Too Hard to Please

If you try to look up Burkittsville, the town where the Blair Witch once resided, in Webster's College Dictionary the only thing that comes close is Burkitt's Lymphoma--a cancer of the lymphatic system characterized by lesions of the jaw or abdomen. It's a shame the dictionary authors aren't paid as prognosticators, for who knew that same definition would partly summarize

this latest installment of "The Blair Witch Project."

The magic of the original "Blair Witch Project" is that it began as a simple idea. Drop three wannabe actors in the woods with two cameras and a mandate to film a slow, group mental breakdown. No script and no soundtrack were necessary. Brilliant Internet marketing and word of mouth spread news of the production even before trailers made it into the theaters. Its official website, Harry Knowles' site, and the Sci-Fi channel's airing of a very real-looking documentary on the Blair Witch and the town of Burkittsville all contributed to what was ultimately well-deserved hype.

"The Blair Witch Project" is the most profitable film of all time. It was scary, creative, and again, simple. What your eyes couldn't see--your own mind made 10 times worse. There were no knives put into intestines, no mass sexual exploits, and no white ooze coming out of people's jaws. All of these cliches are in the sequel.

"Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch Project II" takes place in Burkittsville, MD, after the first film debuts and becomes an international sensation. The film takes a creative turn in acknowledging the original "Blair Witch Project" as fiction. The town is overrun with pesky tourists, yet the population seems to be thriving under a small economic boom. There are people in town selling everything from Burkittsville rocks (as used in the original film), t-shirts, mugs, and even tours.

The film revolves around one young, local resident named Jeff who previously spent time in a mental institution for kidnapping a young girl and taking her into the woods for reasons known only to him. The film does not give the reason for Jeff's institutionalization, but it is on every cardboard stand at the front of the theaters showing the film. And this is a problem. "The Blair Witch Project" is famous for using various media to perpetuate its history, yet if the sequel claims the original film was based on fiction, and the big, cardboard history cutout out front says it was real--who should we believe? The two are inconsistent and get to be a bit of a headache if you analyze them too much.

All of that aside, the film has five people trekking out on a tour of sites from the original film. The sequel continues the tradition of using the actors' real first names as their onscreen names. Jeff is the tour guide. Along with him are Kim, who is a Wiccan witch; Tristine and Stephen, who are a couple doing research for a thesis they're writing; and Erica, the Goth girl who has a bit of ESP running through her system (and make-up that never seems to run). There's a blackout period of about five hours while they're in the woods and it takes the entire film to figure out what

Erica Leerhsen as Erica Geerson in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

happened during those missing hours. By the end of the film you're still trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't.

Joe Berlinger, the film's director, has actually filmed several, highly praised, real documentaries. This is his first non-documentary film and it's a shame he may become more famous for this than any of his previous works, which include the masterpiece "Paradise Lost." He deserves credit for trying to be creative and even bending over backwards to continue the tradition of using the Internet as a tool for promotion, marketing, and giving audiences a better understanding of the film. The website even hosted a chat session with a real Wiccan witch, to get her thoughts on the film and promote the fact that almost all witches today are good and bound to nature.

In the end, the film suffers from a serious case of trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing no one. Perhaps some day we'll find Webster using that as the definition to blairwitchitis.

Review by Sandro Galindo

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