How Much Is Paranoia and How Much Is Witchcraft?
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows tries to convince us that there’s little difference between group hysteria and witchcraft. Five people camp out in the woods. Later, after news of a ritual murder, they’re left with six hours of missing video footage and no memory of that time. Things start happening, strange things, unexplainable things. How much of it is witchcraft and how much of it is paranoia?
Blair Witch Mystery Book
Let me start off by saying I don’t know why this movie is called Book of Shadows. This movie involves no books, let alone something as sinister-sounding as the Book of Shadows. So that’s one unexplainable occurrence right there. The movie follows Jeff, Erica, Stephen, Tristan, and Kim as they camp out in the ruins of an eighteenth-century murder site and lie in wait for some sign of the Blair Witch.
Jeff, former psychiatric patient and Burkittsville resident, leads the team on his inaugural Blair Witch Hunt Tour. Stephen and Tristan are writing a book about the myth and reality of the Blair Witch. Erica is a Wiccan, and Kim is a goth psychic. Together, they spend a wild night of drinking and drugs in the woods. Early in the night, they meet a rival Blair Witch tour group. They trick the new group into spending the night at Coffin Rock. Jeff, Stephen, Erica, Tristan, and Kim plan to stay up all night, but they black out sometime during the night. They wake to all of Tristan and Stephen’s notes raining down on them like snow, their cameras destroyed, and the tapes missing.
Kim sees the tapes in her mind; then Jeff uncovers them in the place where the original Blair Witch Tapes were “found”. No one remembers doing this, and at this point, they’re convinced it was the rival tour group. Then, Tristan has a miscarriage.
The current narrative thread—the five characters in the woods—is cut with scenes from the future; it starts with just Jeff being questioned by the sheriff, but eventually Stephen and Kim are questioned as well. This culminates in them being shown three separate tapes that depict actions we’ve never seen before, but that explain the missing time and strange occurrences throughout the film. Jeff, Stephen, and Kim have no memory of doing the things they’re shown.
As for Tristan’s miscarriage, she starts to go off the rails a bit after that. While Stephen, Erica, Jeff, and Kim are trying to find the missing hours on the tapes, Tristan grows increasingly paranoid; one by one, they all fall into the same pattern, seeing and hearing things that aren’t there or imagining things that aren’t happening. Then Erica goes missing, and the gang gets a call from the sheriff about a ritual murder in the woods: the rival tour group.
What Do We Learn From the Blair Witch?
So, what does Book of Shadows teach us, other than to title your movies relevantly? It’s a good example of group hysteria, how rumors and fear transmit through a group to cause violence and paranoia. Even though the beginning of the film states that it is a fictionalized account of actual events that occurred after the release of The Blair Witch Project, I can’t find any indicator that something like this happened in the context of Blair Witch. I can only assume this is some Cohen brothers Fargo party trick to scare people into thinking this is real, just like they did with the first Blair Witch (which was made by film majors from the University of Central Florida, my alma mater, so there’s that).
That little tidbit in the beginning is another example of group hysteria, only on the audience this time. Viewers see that and they go into the movie with expectations that what they’re seeing actually happened; when they leave the theater, they leave paranoid that something like that could happen to them.
Overall, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, was a fun romp through the world of mockumentary filmmaking, just not on the scale that the first Blair Witch was. Similar to The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, this is a meta take on the original film, blurring the lines of fiction and reality in a way that promotes genuine paranoia in viewers. Although its title doesn’t make any sense, I enjoyed Book of Shadows with the mindset that it was going to be campy and exaggerated. It’s a great movie to watch if you’re looking for something creepy with a solid sense of humor.