Dir: Joe Berlinger. US. 2000. 90min
Prod co: Haxan Films, Artisan Entertainment. US dist: Artisan Entertainment. Int'l Sales: Summit Entertainment, tel: (1) 310 309 8400. Exec prod: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez. Prod: Bill Carraro. Scr: Dick Beebe, Berlinger. DoP: Nancy Schreiber. Prod des: Vince Peranio. Ed: Sarah Flack. Music: Carter Burwell. Main cast: Jeffrey Donovan, Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner. Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director.

The Blair Witch Project is a tough act to follow on many levels but the sequel should satisfy most of the interested parties if not the accountants. The new film is certain to make money but it won't approach its predecessor's earnings. The must-see factor will draw the enthusiastic fans but lukewarm word-of-mouth will dilute subsequent waves. The film will amuse cineastes but it's too subtle to score with a teenager looking for a Scary Movie jolt. No doubt hard-core Blairites are awaiting the third installment, on which Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, co-creators of the first film, are slated to collaborate. Here, they executive produce.

Hired script-writing guns Berlinger and Beebe find a clever entree. Rather than ape the original's so-called "shaky cam" cinema verite, faux-documentary style, they take a post-modern approach, dramatising the impact of the original film on a party of five persons who have their own particular obsessions about the film and its myth-making. This allows the narrative to self-reference without resorting to all-out self-mockery.

Jeff (Donovan), an opportunistic local who makes a living selling black market Blair Witch paraphernalia, is now leading his first tour of the purported Blair Witch site. His clients are a practising Wiccan, a husband-and-wife team researching a book on mass hysteria and a goth princess with psychic pretensions. After a party-like night in the woods -- complete with Blair Witch lightbulb joke -- the campers awaken to a scene of devastation. Everything is destroyed or disarranged, including their memories, but their tapes -- as in the original -- are sound. They repair to Jeff's isolated warehouse to review the footage; as they gradually piece together the missing hours of the fateful evening, their sanity disintegrates. As the narrative jumps forwards and backwards in time, from police interrogations in the future, to snippets of bloody mayhem in the past, viewers are left to draw their own conclusions: did the Blair Witch precipitate the evil or did they need her help at all'

An introductory documentary sequence (a real one this time) establishes the media frenzy surrounding the actual film - including an excerpt from celebrity film critic Roger Ebert's televised review - and the misperceptions spawned by its pseudo-realism. This blurring of lines between fiction and reality is nicely paralleled as the characters begin to experience their own blurring, seeing and hearing the 'things that go bump' and then confirming one another in their delusions.