Book of Shadows: Blair Witch Project 2 (2000, dir. Joe Berlinger)
I know that my opinion of this movie, which is a favorable one, might ruffle some feathers, especially those feathers of the first film’s fans. Most of the criticism that I remember about this movie was that it didn’t continue the narrative established by the first film. People wanted to know what happened at the end of the first movie, and they wanted more of the Blair Witch, hopefully a glimpse. And you know what, I did too. At first I was just as pissed that when the sequel was announced, the description of an actual film narrative, as opposed to a found footage, would take place, and, well, it killed my expectations. So much so that I didn’t even bother to see it in theaters – I waited to see it on DVD. After I watched it with Mike and his wife, I was hooked. I went out and bought my own copy of the special edition DVD, one that came with a CD of the soundtrack. I think Mike’s copy of the special edition came with two different computer games, one featuring Rustin Parr, the hermit blamed for killing children, and mentioned in the first movie. And the other game was supposedly told from the perspective of an early settler in Burkittsville, then called Blair.
The blending of multimodal media was a great way to tie up some narrative threads that were introduced in the first movie, but because they were not made available in the movie, I think the fans were quite pissed that they did not have some resolution. I argue that there is a form of metanarrative resolution. But, it’s kind of a cheat. The resolution presented in the sequel is that the Blair Witch may or may not have existed, but that the frenzy created by the original film created a new sort of witch hunt – the hunt for reality. Okay, that sounds like some “puff, puff, pass” shit, but I’ll explain. The conceit of the sequel is that each person in the party of “reality tour” participants falls victim to their own blindness to the reality of their own world, swallowed up by the reality they sought through the Blair Witch experience. This trip into metanarrative exploration is what I believe really pissed off viewers. The first night when it seemed that everyone had a close encounter with the Blair Witch, it turned out that they all got really fuckin’ high and drunk, participated in some sort of blood orgy that may or may not have been influenced by the Blair Witch. They tore shit up. Real good. They then proceeded to wreak havoc on the town as not only was a convenience store clerk killed, but so were two of the group members. Their recollection of shit that went down was wildly different than what was caught on various forms of recordings. Each recording revealed a new insight to their realities, shocking all of them as they insist that they did nothing of what was portrayed on film.
And this revelation is what works best for the film – the revelation that all that the viewers watched up until that time was an illusion makes complete sense, at least to me. The tour group members had convinced themselves that their experiences were purely subjective, that only they knew what they experienced, but when the element of capturing that “reality” came into play, their worlds collapsed. The infallibility, or perceived infallibility of recorded media, is called into question. As viewers, we saw what the characters saw, not quite subjectively, but with enough distance to be objective at the same time. We believed that what we saw was what they saw. However, various surveillance camera’s footage revealed a rampage of drug fueled violence and destruction.But was it true? Did the group nakedly hunt down other reality group members of a rival tour by ritualistically murdering by disembowelment? Did one of the tourist crew use a nail file to stab a cashier in the throat? Did two of the crew murder two other members, one by strangulation and the other by hanging? Or was it all the work of the Blair Witch? That shift in “reality” is another factor that I’m sure pissed viewers off as well. Now viewers were being played with, almost cruelly and with some joy it seemed.
The exploration of metanarratives intrigues me, especially since the director is Joe Berlinger, an award-winning documentarian. His involvement in the documentary series exploring the controversial case of the West Memphis Three, a case with Satanic ritual murder accusations attached, Paradise Lost, lent a sort of credibility to the notion of exploring “reality” through the lens, if you will, of recorded media. The intermingling of both subjective and objective viewing that documentaries bring, coupled with expectations of the narrative was probably more than most audience members could take. There’s more that I want to write about Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, but I’ll save that for another day. Right now, I want to put both movies in and watch them back-to-back. And I just might.