I’ve long contended that Book of Shadows really suffers from its connection to the Blair Witch series. It’s not nearly as much of a sequel as it is a sidequel… But then again you could say the same thing about The Curse Of The Blair Witch special that premiered on sci-fi, and yet that one fit the franchise better.
Book of Shadows is such a difference kind of movie though, that it finds it difficult to really fit in with the rest of the series. In some ways this was intentional, the director, Joe Berlinger has himself said he had no interest in going over the same formula again… I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m not totally certain I agree with his choice. Because Blair witch project was such a divisive film, you weren’t making a sequel to try and attract new fans or convert the haters… It was to polarizing for that. Instead, what you needed to be doing was making a sequel for the fans. I find it interesting, listening to the Berlinger’s commentary about just how out of touch he is with the demographic he is supposedly trying to reach. This is a director who had been chosen because of his experience creating documentaries… And yet he chose to run screaming in the other direction. If you listen to him talk about film, you’ll see that there was definitely a much heavier studio hand in this. That’s to be expected, and it’s always a problem but it’s a problem that was exacerbated but the fact that instead of a franchise entry, he seemed hellbent on creating an art film… He kept trying to characterize the movie as a satire rather than a horror film, and repeats this theme several times throughout the director’s commentary. He wished to explore the phenomenon that arose around the film and it’s effects on society.
Okay, but that’s not what anybody wanted from a sequel
It would have been a far better subject for a documentary then a feature – and it’s no surprise that since then Berlinger seems to have stuck with the documentary format where he can indulge in social commentary rather than just attempt to entertain. He’s not a bad director, he’s just a poor choice for this project -a director that had absolutely no interest in making the film at the studio wanted, or making the film the fans wanted, or even making a true sequel to this franchise…and it shows.
What’s really interesting, is that this should’ve worked. Wes Craven’s Scream had brought the concept of the meta film firmly in to the public eye. It was something that we understood and even liked at the time. The head trippy mind bending films were coming into fashion again and Book of Shadows is a little bit of all of that combined with a household name that had high recognition. This movie looks like a great idea on paper… but all comes back to this not being what the fans really wanted to see. remember how I mentioned in the 2016 movie that there is this delicate balance… You have to take the familiar and balance that with some new ideas pushing foreward. The Wingard film may skew a bit too much towards familiar… But book of shadows doesn’t give us enough of the familiar – it skews in the completely opposite direction, and that betrays the brand.
Can I point out a couple of incidental quibbles with the movie as well? Actually, it’s more with the production design. We’ll start with that poster. That poster actually would be marvelous image for Blair Witch 2016. We’re back in the woods there, and the woods does indeed seem to be a character in of itself. The idea of being absorbed by the woods make sense there. In Book of Shadows however, this poster and has no real representation. There is no place for it, it doesn’t happen – not even symbolically. In fact, it serves more to make me expect a movie that’s set largely in the woods, and not so much at an old decaying home.
Then there is the name itself that I want to know who came up with this name, because it’s got nothing to do with the film. I know when a book of shadows is… although I’ll wager that the better part of the film going public (even this films audience) did not. However when you have a film with the phrase “Book of Shadows”, paired with the word “Witch” in the title, a film where an ethereal witch is supposedly the antagonist, where there is even a Wiccan ingenue included in the cast….perhaps it’s just me, but I expect that at some point we will see a witch’s spellbook (that is to say, a book of shadows) come into play, likely driving the story (much the way the necronomicon does in Evil Dead). Nowhere in this film are any books to be found, much less a “book of shadows”. Apparently someone thought this would just be a cool name.
These are minor sticking points, but put together with the source material, the sequel nature of the film and the franchise….it leads you to expect a VERY different kind of movie, and that’s a problem guaranteed to put off a large chunk of your audience.
I’d really like to have seen this done diffrently. Perhaps as an unauthorized parody, a DTV sidequel instead of the “official” sequel. It’s a movie that has no interest in being part of the franchise that birthed it and I think it should be treated as such.