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No Substitute for Real Fear 

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (R)
Artisan Entertainment

For all of those people who thought The Blair Witch Project was a crappy horror movie, its tawdry little sequel is just the right antidote for explaining by example how great that first witch hunt was by comparison.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 bears no resemblance to the signature shaky hand-held camera Blair Witch with its unseen lurking evil that terrified audiences before the film's hype crushed the life and surprise out of the movie. With its too-cool-for-school, post-modern backlash (and flashback) view on five Gen X youths who return to the scene of the crime as part of a tour group in Burkittsville, Maryland, Book of Shadows gives gory flashes of hallucinations and nude spectacle in place of an actual fear-inducing narrative. It's not much of a horror movie on its own, much less after its ingenious predecessor.

Documentary director Joe Berliner (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) shows he isn't ready to make the leap to narrative feature films. His choppy and messy style looks more like a student film than even The Blair Witch Project. Between Berliner's unreliable eye for believability and Book of Shadows cast of barely professional actors lies an abyss of wasted screen time. In one early scene, tour group leader Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) is shown getting a long white tube being shoved down his nose in a mental hospital where he spent some time thrashing around a padded cell in a straitjacket. It's so stupidly obvious that the tube is merely being guided past the actor's face, rather than down his nostril, that you feel cheated for paying full movie price for your ticket.

The story paints itself around a series of quick-cut bloody scenes of nighttime murders that occur after a rival Blair Witch tour group have tried to move in on the main kids' prime campsite digs. Some bad Blair Witch juju co-opts five unaccountable hours of blackout time from the quirky gang on campers which consists of former-loony-bin-dude Jeff; Erica, a Wiccan chick; Kim, a big-boned, pale-faced Goth babe; and Tristan and Steven, a couple working on making a baby. It doesn't help matters that these kids drink copious amounts of alcohol and smoke tons of pot while they wait for their many well-placed video cameras to catch the evil they're too afraid to face.

The space-cases return to Jeff's digitally equipped mansion-of-sorts to view the tapes and figure out what force wrecked their campsite while they slept off their jag. By the time the story gets to its butler-did-it ending, the biggest impression made is how much Steven Turner resembles a bad version of Ralph Fiennes.

Book of Shadows is a movie that is all about what it resembles. It approximates a horror movie. Every actor looks like some other actor's younger brother or sister. And every scene looks and feels like it was copied out of some best-of student film compilation. It's a movie that attempts to apologize for the far-flung success of The Blair Witch Project by mocking its subject, structure, style and location. Your can see the actors working very hard to make something believable and good from the slop they've been awarded as a script. Although they're much more polished than the amateur cast of the original film, they don't get anywhere near the unnerved inspiration that fired The Blair Witch Project.

There's simply no substitute for actual fear. The Blair Witch Project put a terrified face on a movie that threatened to be a voyeuristic snuff film. There will most likely never be another movie that treads so close to that base element of human distraction. But if it's evil's face that you wish to gaze upon, get thee to a screening of the newly edited The Exorcist, then look at your own face in a mirror when the movie is over. You'll notice a subtle change in your expression that reveals the effect fear has on people. It affirms life in a strange way that you can only know when you feel it.

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