THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a unique horror experiment that made the audience question if what they were seeing was true. Over the years I have been quick to point out its flaws but it was truly was a masterclass in marketing that took the found-footage angle and made something very tangible out of it. Released in 1999 and made for a mere $60,000, the film went on to gross $248.6 million at the worldwide box office and it became a true pop culture phenomenon in the process.
A sequel was inevitable and just a year later, BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 was released and the film became an instant critical and box office failure. BLAIR WITCH 2 was made for $15 million and only mustered up $26.4 million at the domestic box office and the main culprit for its failure, depending on who you ask, were expectations. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was unique while the sequel dropped a lot of that for a more conventional approach. Joe Berlinger directed and co-wrote the sequel and he recently spoke with “ComicBook.com” about why the film failed and he seems to think that his intention for the film just didn’t match up to what the masses wanted:
“As a purveyor of reality, as a documentarian, it concerned me that Artisan [studio] tricked people into seeing [The Blair Witch Project] and no one in the media thought that was a bad thing, that everyone celebrated the marketing hoax that propelled this movie into the stratosphere in terms of box office gross, and nobody sat back and said, “Faking people out and making them think it’s real when it’s not could have dangerous consequences. That’s why I did the movie the way I did it, because I wanted to make a commentary on that. Instead of doing a sequel to the actual movie, I wanted to do a sequel to that phenomenon of the success of the movie and people refusing to believe it wasn’t true, despite tangible proof in front of their eyes.”
Berlinger went into doing BLAIR WITCH 2 not wanting to make it another found-footage movie and it seems like he certainly didn’t want to do a film that merely expanded on that film’s story. A sequel that speaks to the commentary of the obsession with the concept that was born out of the first film’s success could be interesting but I honestly think it just came too soon after the first movie and it’s not something moviegoers really wanted. Berlinger goes on to say that he soon realized that his movie was destined to be unsuccessful because of the unorthodox way that the first film found its way to success:
“What I underestimated, back at the time, was anything called “Blair Witch 2” was going to be ripped to shreds because there was just such antipathy towards anything. This little $30,000 Sundance movie that people laughed when Artisan paid a million dollars for it, their competitors, all the other studios were giggling. Then this thing did $140 million or something like that. The idea that it would then be turned into a franchise, people were really resentful of that idea. And I figured, “Okay, I’m going to do something different and cool that has some meaning to it and riff on the whole idea of making a sequel, and make fun of the idea of making a sequel. Hopefully people will respect that.”
Berlinger does seem to come off a bit confused about what audience he was trying to please. He believes that a certain section of the audience was against the idea of another found-footage BLAIR WITCH movies while another section of the audience welcomed a fresh idea that delivered found-footage horror in the same vein as the first film without directly making a carbon copy of it. He was going for intelligence and social commentary and says that he really wasn’t trying to cater to either side of the aisle:
I underestimated how much venom there would be towards anything called “Blair Witch 2.” I also underestimated just how much the fans of that movie really just wanted the found-footage technique continued and they really just wanted the folklore and the characters, they just wanted that to continue. My mistake, and this is not a disrespect to the fans of Blair Witch 1, my mistake was trying to … I’m a documentarian of intellectual documentaries. What were people expecting? My mistake was to inject into a horror franchise some intelligence and social commentary.
I actually watched this film again just year for the first time in years and while I can see his attempts at the commentary that was speaking to the first film’s success, the sequel just still doesn’t work for me. Maybe a lot of it popped more on paper but the execution is just not up to par and a lot of it comes across as a jumbled mess. I will say it starts relatively solid but soon enough it goes off the rails and whatever commentary he was going for gets lost in all the madness.
Do YOU agree with Berlinger’s comments about BLAIR WITCH 2? Was the film doomed to fail? Did moviegoers just not understand what the director was trying to do with the sequel?