The tradition of horror sequels is not a particularly honourable or memorable one, which makes the depth and quality to be found in this film all the more surprising. While "The Blair Witch Project" was a faux documentary that played on simple primal fears, and relied on disorientating camerawork to create a veneer of confusion and panic in the characters and audience, "Book of Shadows" is an altogether slicker affair.
Ironically it is the first fiction film from acclaimed documentary maker, Joe Berlinger, whose credits include "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and "Brother's Keeper". But Berlinger's take on the phenomenon is just that, a studied view of the cult of "The Blair Witch Project" and films like it. It's an exercise in self-referentiality that makes the "Scream" series look positively subdued.
His story starts as four "Blair Witch Project" fans sign up for a tour of the sites from that movie, and the 'infamous' locations that supposedly inspired it. They are led by the brash Jeff (Donovan - characters and actors share their names once again in this film), whose gung ho spirit and infectious film buffery takes a knock during a night camped in the ruins of a supposedly haunted house.
During the night Jeff, curious white witch Erica, Goth sceptic Kim, and academic couple Tristen and Stephen find their camp severely disturbed and several hours that they cannot account for. Is this evidence of the witch's handiwork, or the result of a night fuelled by drugs and alcohol? The virtue of Berlinger's film is that it does not take a prescriptive approach in the way it tells its story, leaving much to the viewer's imagination and trusting them to come to their own conclusion. Whichever they choose, it's a chilling, highly effective journey made with intelligence and a handful of effective, goose-bump-inducing moments.
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