It's no surprise that any movie studio with the ability chose to create a sequel to the groundbreaking movie The Blair Witch Project, which used unknown actors that filmed themselves while improvising the movie based on a basic outline of a script. Furthermore, the marketing of the flick used their actors' anonymity to pretend the entire thing was real and that the three main characters were actually missing after their encounter with entities in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. It ended up making over $240 million on a $60,000 budget, making it a huge hit.
A year later, Artisan Entertainment released a sequel to the movie called Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 to cash in on the hype. Unfortunately, the sequel tanked at the box office and with fans of the original movie, seeming to hold nothing in common with its predecessor. Unbeknownst to most people, the original idea for the sequel was planned as a satire of the hysteria and popularity surrounding The Blair Witch Project, providing characters meant to embody different aspects of fan reactions.
Instead, Artisan Entertainment added Book of Shadows to the title, cut the more ambitious portions of the movie, and created a generic follow-up that most fans saw as a cash-grab. If only the studio had left the creative teams to their own devices, the sequel to such a unique film may have broken new ground, as well.
Berlinger set out to exaggerate the phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project while helming its sequel. From his choice of character traits to the way he wanted to film the movie, he wanted to make a statement about the perhaps irresponsible marketing of the first film and the fallout of that decision. Instead of focusing on fans' obsession with the film and the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, Berlinger took things much further, depicting fans of the movie taking that interest all the way to committing evil deeds.
Furthermore, Berlinger wanted to assure audiences that the original and the sequel were works of fiction, which is something the studio steamrolled. In cutting what they saw as a less-than-scary movie into their idea of horror, the studio removed the pointed satirical commentary's impact by moving it into the background.
Berlinger, a documentary filmmaker, felt that The Blair Witch Project was dangerous in its use of marketing that fooled people into believing they were about to enter a movie theater and watch three college kids perish or disappear without a trace. He had each character in Book of Shadows represent the fans of the first film, with those looking to profit, those interested in discussing its truth, and those disappointed in the portrayal of witches/Wiccans.
The hysteria felt by the characters as the movie progresses mirrors the feelings of the audience when attempting to learn what is and isn't real in The Blair Witch Project. When The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, the internet was still new and a website online convinced around 40% of viewers that Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard), and Mike (Michael C. Williams) were actually deceased.
The presence of the media in Book of Shadows was also an indictment of the news that covered The Blair Witch Project breathlessly and questioned whether it could be real when the main cast was clearly alive and well, making talk show rounds.
According to GoodBadFlicks, each of the characters reflects audience reactions to The Blair Witch Project. Tristen (Tristine Skyler) and Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner) are the intellectuals arguing whether the original movie is based on facts in the mythology of the Blair Witch. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) is a fan looking to cash in on the film's success by selling piles of rocks and t-shirts, and giving tours of the locations visited in the first film.
Erica (Erica Leerhsen) represents Wiccans upset that the first movie portrays witches as evil and vindictive. Kim (Kim Director) is an outsider and lover of the occult that genuinely enjoyed the movie for its ties to both sides of her personality.
Berlinger made sure to pack each delusion of the characters with as many horror movie references as possible since they are all horror fans. Their breakdowns mirroring things seen in movies hammers home the point that a deep belief or obsession with pop culture leaks into the subconcious of the viewer, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.
Tristen tells the other characters at one point that "you're all going to f*cking die" while taunting them endlessly, which is an homage to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies. Another nod to the horror classics is Erica spinning backward around a pole. At one point, several dogs show up and bark at Jeff's abandoned warehouse home as a call out to The Omen. Kim devours an owl in a manner that recalls the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead chewing on victims, while the recordings of their blackout escapades tip their hat to The Exorcist by requiring a reverse playback.