'The Blair Witch Project' was not a horror movie. It was, in effect, a movie version of a scary ghost story...the sort that leaves everyone who hears it laughing and jumping at shadows all night long. It was phenomenally successful because, in part, no one had ever done anything like that before. It was completely new and totally unexpected, and it blew people's minds.
How, then, would you make a sequel? To remake the first, with its bare-bones approach and pseudo-Reality gimmick, would be an exercise in lameness. It wouldn't be as successful as the first, and it wouldn't be -surprising-; no one would like it. It'd be self-parody. How could it be done, and be done -right-?
They came up with a way: the sequel is a movie about the success of the first movie. The premise is simple: after the success of 'The Blair Witch Project', tourists flood into Burkittsville, MD, the site of the original movie. Locals run tours of the Black Hills, where the witch was supposed to walk. The curious and morbid flock to the area, to camp in the woods and see the sights. Among them are Tristen and Stephen, a couple researching a book on the Blair Witch phenomenon; Kim, a defensive cookie-cutter goth chick who just liked the movie and wants some further entertainment; and Erica, an evangelical Wiccan who wants to connect with the real Blair Witch. They join up with Jeff, a former mental patient who's running a tour of the Black Hills area, and the five decide to spend an evening camping in the ruins of the house where Rustin Parr killed seven children. They don't intend to fall asleep, but they do...and when they wake up and leave the area, it becomes clear that something has followed them.
Many of the themes that made the first Blair Witch movie so interesting are still present. The characters rely on video cameras rather than on their own senses. They try to explain away their fears until it's too late. They cling to technology; they use it to try to separate themselves from the unseen menace around them. The unseen and unknown are still the source of dread; much like the first movie, even the very end doesn't answer questions as to exactly what was after the protagonists.
The execution is entirely different, though. This is clearly a Hollywood movie -- the camera work is polished and smooth (no barf bags necessary, as they were for the first movie). It's actually scripted, whereas the first wasn't. And, unlike the first movie, Book of Shadows -is- a horror movie...a surprisingly gory one at that.
The second Blair Witch movie is by no means devoid of flaws. The dialogue needs a lot of help. Some of the characters are horrible cliches (such as the cardboard-cutout Redneck Sheriff character and the proselytizing tree-hugging Wiccan stereotype). The characters are hard to identify with and sympathize with, and the acting can be laughable in places. The first movie benefitted by having no money to waste on special effects; this film isn't as sparse, so it throws money at unnecessary effects that really don't play well (such as that goofy animatronic owl).
However, the story is good, and overall the movie works. It's not the unique experiment in moviemaking that 'The Blair Witch Project' was...but parts of it are damn scary, and it's good Halloween entertainment.
Book of Shadows's strength is in the way it builds up the feeling of unreality; it does a great job of making the viewer question exactly what it was that really happened, at the end. The great flaw of the movie is that it doesn't necessarily make the viewer -care-.