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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 10/26/2000,

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

The original Blair Witch Project was a joke whose punch line is now familiar to everyone ó the "found footage" of a trio of film students lost hunting a witch in the woods may look like the real thing, but itís only a movie. Joe Berlinger, director of the sequel, made a documentary (Paradise Lost) about a different kind of witch hunt that insists that it isnít just a movie but the real thing. Here Berlinger continues his study of such issues as the mediaís blurring of reality and illusion and societyís need for scapegoats even as he tries to repeat a success that is by its nature unrepeatable. Unfortunately, he has no knack for characters, dialogue, or plot. His Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a flurry of half-formed ideas that instead of clarifying the distinction between documentary and fiction compromises both.

Itís a year since The Blair Witch Project shocked the box office, and the Maryland town of Burkittsville is struggling with its newfound fame. Among the locals exploiting it is Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan), who sells the trademark stick figures over the Internet and has started a tour of the sites made famous in the film. The clients on the maiden run include Erica (Erica Leerhsen), a self-righteous wiccan, Kim (Kim Director), a spunky goth girl, and Tristen (Tristen Skyler) and Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), a couple writing a book about it. They all fall asleep in the woods with the cameras on and then try to figure out what happened during the lost hours.

The flashbacks to ritual murder and flashforwards to a police investigation make the mystery pretty obvious, but Shadows stretches things out by having Jeff tinker with his tapes and his clients bicker and go berserk while Berlinger toys with chronology and film formats and gratuitous allusions. Whatís real and what isnít proves elusive and irrelevant; what looks certain is that there wonít be a Blair Witch 3.

-- Peter Keough