Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ten Statements About....BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH PROJECT II: (2000)

Sorry, Sam Axe for you...
"If you don't believe in The Blair Witch, why the Hell did you come?"
"I thought the movie was cool."

1) Joe Berlinger, a documentarian who must have rolled his eyes when given this assignment, actually does the best he can to both 'conform to the reality' of the original film while pretty much telling all of us, 'you know the first film was a load of made-up stuff, right?' Simple tricks like naming the characters similarly to the actors who play them, the inclusion of actual clips and real-like personages as talking heads,designing the film so it looks like a documentary--even creating a title sequence that mirrors Berlinger's own documentary Paradise Lost: The Murders At Robin Hood Hills all contribute to the sense that this could have happened..just as Berlinger is winking at you and telling you it's never did.

2) It is so weird seeing Jeffrey Donovan playing the twitchy, disturbed Jeffrey Patternson. You almost expect him to call up Bruce Campbell to clear this mess up at a moment's notice. He's actually pretty funny at times, and you can see what USA Networks saw when they gave the go-ahead to his casting in Burn Notice...and his flashback to his time in the asylum is just...strange enough to make you realize this is not going to end well.

3) And speaking of it not ending well...Berlinger seems to delight in just piling on the intimations that this is a doomed tour from the beginning. Giving us a full pass into Jeffrey's mind, letting us know this is his first time leading a tour, Kim's admission that she might be a little unstable as wouldn't surprise me if Berlinger approached this as something of a satire of the original hysteria that rose up over the first film.

Believe it or not, Kim Director's Kim is at her sanest when
she's dressed like this...
4) Just as one of the strength's of Myrick and Sanchez' first film was their ability to cast three leads with chemistry and personality, Berlinger seems to have worked hard to get a similar group of actors together. This quartet--besides Donovan, stand-outs include the absolutely hilarious Kim Director as a goth chick who isn't buying into all this and the absolutely gob-stoppingly hot Erica Leershen as an actual witch with some dotty ideas--does have a good give-and-take that helps us buy into the film's gag for most of its running time.

5) ...and I use the word 'gag' deliberately. I honestly don't think that this film was meant to be taken seriously. When you actually listen to some of the stuff that is said--like Erica's intention to beseech the Blair Witch to be her mentor--you realize that this film works best as a satire commenting on what went down around the time of the first film's release.

6) If there is a weak link in this central cast, it is Stephen Barker Turner, who's given the unenviable task of being the group skeptic. And while I get the sense that his character is Berlinger's mouthpiece, and that the points he's making are connected to Berlinger's own views on the matter, he ends up becoming something of a Scully--refusing to accept any counter arguments to his own views.

7) At first I wasn't sure why Berlinger chose to do all these flash forwards to the Really Bad Thing That Happens throughout the first act--but then I realized it was to obscure the moment when it actually happens (for the record, my guess is it happens at the 22 minute mark, when we start seeing Kim's and Tristene Skyler's Trinsten's hallucinations and dreams--just before the rain of paper).

Erica Leershen...mmmmmmm.....
8) I have to wonder if the few creature effects shots were absolutely necessary; they seem out of place in a film where so much of what Berlinger is selling us is based on our perceptions and the unreliability of the narrator--why shout when he's doing just fine whispering how these five people are Not To Be Trusted? Much more effective are the simple tricks, like when Sheriff Craven talks to the group via a pre-taped television report.

9) I am not a fan of Lanny Flaherty's Sheriff Cravens. He's too over-the-top, too obviously playing a part in a movie that every time he shows up it makes the film a bit less smart....

10) It's odd how the real central horror of the third act revolves around how everyone sort of changes places. And the person who comes off the scariest is the least scary member of our crew, Tristin...who becomes the epitome of unhinged just before meeting her fate, daring others to do what she so desperately wants to do herself. Or at least, what others think she wants to do....

Overall...a film that maybe is a little too clever for its own good (the fact that the title refers back to the film itself--something I didn't realize until it was pointed out by Scott Aslin's excellent review of the film--doesn't help any), but still a pretty effective unreliable narrator film. It's certainly the best a sequel could possibly have been to a film that was more of an event than an actual, you know, film.

1 comment: