Movie Reviews

Blair Witch Project Ending Explained: All Your Questions Answered

The ending of The Blair Witch Project still haunts fans to this day, but what exactly happened in the chilling final scene? The first movie in The Blair Witch Project series was a low-budget independent horror film from co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and told the story of three student filmmakers who wander into the Burkittsville woods to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. In the forests around where the village of Blair once stood, they encounter the Blair Witch, although the movie’s Blair Witch monster is never shown in full.

After The Blair Witch Project ending, the trio is never seen again, but a year following their disappearance, the footage they shot is recovered. It’s this “real” footage that the movie is made from, and this approach are the roots of found-footage horrors like Paranormal Activity, Quarantine, and Cloverfield after the ’90s. However, despite the scare factor being brilliantly executed, the found-footage format also left audiences confused, as the Blair Witch ending left the trio’s fate ambiguous. Here’s everything that audiences might’ve missed in the ending of The Blair Witch Project — explained in detail.

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The original Blair Witch Project’s innovative marketing campaign in 1999 involved making it seem like the group’s found footage was totally real, with the movie launching a website providing reams of backstory on the town and the witch herself. The film’s main actors also had to keep a low profile to maintain the illusion they were actually missing. This led to the movie grossing close to $250 million worldwide on a mere $60,000 budget, making it one of the most profitable films in history. While The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first so-called found footage movie — 1980s controversial horror movie Cannibal Holocaust is often regarded as the originator — it certainly popularized the genre, leading to movies like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield.

The Blair Witch Project had a major impact on the horror genre. It thrust the idea of found footage horror from a niche subgenre into the mainstream, proving its value beyond borderline unpalatable shock-thrills like Cannibal Holocaust. While The Blair Which Project launched a franchise that included two sequels, a few video games, and lots of novels, the original is still highly regarded for its taut, psychological chills. The Blair Witch Project’s ending is still hotly debated to this day, with the terrifying final shot sticking with viewers two decades later.

The Blair Witch Project changed movie marketing with its use of the Internet, with the film being virally touted as a found-footage documentary. While the Blair Witch monster is total fiction, it helped that Myrick and Sanchez crafted an in-depth backstory for the titular witch and the village of Blair itself. The story goes that in 1785 in Blair, Maryland, a group of children accuses a woman named Elly Kedward of taking them to her home and drawing blood from them. The enraged town quickly finds her guilty, and she’s banished outside the village into a harsh winter to die of exposure. By the next year, all of Kedward’s accusers and some of the village’s children vanish, leading to the village’s abandonment (similar to the town of Silent Hill in Silent Hill).

A new township settles on the site decades later, but over the years strange occurrences happen, like children disappearing and the ritualistic murder of a search party in 1886. In 1940, a hermit named Rustin Parr turns himself in to authorities and confesses to the murder of seven children, claiming a cloaked ghost woman made him do it. Kyle Brody was the only survivor, with Parr making the boy stand in a corner while he committed the killings. Parr was hanged for his crimes and the legend of the Blair Witch faded into obscurity until a trio of college students — Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams — went missing while filming a documentary on the topic. This was all treated as being a fictional movie by the bizarre Blair Witch sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, although that’s now largely ignored.

Related: Telling the Untold Stories of The Blair Witch Project

One of the most terrifying scenes in The Blair Witch Project comes late in the film when Josh goes missing and Heather makes a horrific discovery not long after. It’s not made explicit what exactly this bloody thing wrapped with a piece of Josh’s shirt is onscreen, but the consensus is that the shirt contains gory fragments of Josh’s teeth and hair, and perhaps other body parts. Since he’s never seen again, and his screams were heard during the night, it seems clear that the Blair Witch — or an agent working on her behalf (like a Blair Witch killer cult according to some theories) — took him and murdered him in a rather brutal fashion.

The Blair Witch Project features the students investigating the legend of the witch, including interviews with locals about the various myths that have cropped up around her. One interviewee even claims to have seen the Blair Witch, describing her as a half-human, half-animal creature. The group then hikes into the woods near Burkittsville only to quickly find themselves lost. They hear strange noises in the woods at night and find stick men suspended from trees. The nerves of the group fray as the days pass and Josh eventually goes missing. His screams are later heard coming from the woods, with Heather finding the aforementioned bloody thing seemingly filled with his remains. As a side-note, the “real footage” viral marketing was so effective at fooling people that the Maryland town of Burkittsville suffered from the association with such gory happenings on its back doorstep.

The Blair Witch Project’s ending finds Heather and Mike coming across what appears to be Rustin Parr’s abandoned house, which should be impossible since it was burned down following his execution in 1941. While The Blair Witch Project has three alternate endings, the following events are considered canon in the franchise. The duo enters the house, following Josh’s screams and finding strange symbols and hand prints on the wall. Mike is attacked by something off-camera, leading to Heather picking it up and heading into the basement. There she sees Mike facing the corner, just like Kyle Brody did when Parr killed the children, and Heather screams as she’s attacked by something and drops the camera, leaving lots of open Blair Witch Project questions.

The Blair Witch Project’s had several alternate endings, but the chosen conclusion was conceived out of the need to end on a creepy note, but without revealing the witch herself. There are a number of theories about the real killer in The Blair Witch Project, but the most commonly accepted is that the Blair Witch lured Heather and Mike to the house and killed them. The movie shows the group getting lost and traveling in circles, leading some fans to believe they’re caught in a time loop created by the witch, which allows explains how Parr’s house could still be standing. Other theories state some Burkittsville locals are the ones responsible for the killings (possibly leaving the Blair Witch stick figures as effigies or totems of worship), or that the witch possessed Josh, and he’s the unseen attacker. If they are caught in a time warp, it’s also possible Rustin Parr himself is the killer.

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Blair Witch, the 2016 sequel, backs up the time travel theories, with Heather’s brother James heading into the same woods to get closure on her disappearance, and his group soon getting caught in a loop that ends in Rustin Parr’s house. Blair Witch 2016 is unlikely to get a sequel, meaning its ending won’t get expanded upon. The 2000 video game Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr takes place in 1941, with the main character coming across Parr’s home and having a flash-forward vision of Heather and Mike in the basement – an event that doesn’t occur for another 50 years. Heather is attacked by an unseen force, and the game (whose canon status in the Blair Witch mythology is now debatable) suggests an ancient Native American force dubbed Hecaitomix inhabits the woods and is responsible for creating the Blair Witch.

Fiction masquerading as fact has always been a staple of horror, even before movies – everything from campfire stories at summer camp to the letter correspondence format of Mary Shelly’s 1818 classic Frankenstein relied on convincing the listener/reader that the horrifying events conveyed are real. As a medium, cinema struggled to recreate this magic. No amount of suspension of disbelief could convince an audience that a scripted, edited movie with a cast of actors in character was real on an emotional level (although as an honorable mention, The Exorcist came pretty close).

The found footage format was used to attempt this with movies like Cannibal Holocaust and equally controversial The Faces of Death, but the conceit was always “how close to a snuff film can we make without actually making a snuff film”, relying on visceral disgust more than creating fear from psychological realism. Then, The Blair Witch Project came along and changed everything. It was the first found-footage movie pertaining to the supernatural that genuinely had audiences questioning its status as fiction. By now, the legendary status of The Blair Witch Project is undebatable, but the movie wouldn’t have reached it without the ending.

The final shots of The Blair Witch Project left 1990s audiences leaving theaters with a genuine sense of unease (which is why it’s still the best Blair Witch movie). The ambiguity was pulled off with such aplomb that horror aficionados, none of whom were numb to the found footage genre’s real-but-not tricks and tropes, legitimately questioned whether the whole release wasn’t actually just part of the Blair Witch monster’s curse – one to which they’d now succumbed just by watching it. This was, of course, hysteria, hype, and a bit of fun in the times when water-cooler conversations drove public interest before memes and hashtags, but it’s a testament to just how successfully The Blair Witch Project’s ending achieved its objectives.

Related: How A Blair Witch Movie Could Be Done Today

The narrative device of an ambiguous found footage ending has been harnessed by everything from Paranormal Activity to Cloverfield to [REC] to the underrated The Houses October Built, but it was The Blair Witch Project that first mastered the trick of making viewers feel like watching the movie was the first act in their own personal horror story. No found footage movie has managed to recreate the success or impact of The Blair Witch Project, but that’s because the entire subgenre basically only exists because of the 1999 release.

While The Blair Witch Project‘s ending laid the foundations for stories outside but related to the original found footage, none of the sequels actually match up to the original. In The Woods/Blair Witch, the time travel twist and horrible CGI monster —which may or may not have been the titular witch — were somewhat compelling, but ultimately underwhelming. To be fair, it’s difficult to match the original, as The Blair Witch Project‘s impact on ’90s horror is unquestionable.

This, however, is no excuse for Book of Shadows: Blair Witch, a convoluted mess that retained nothing of what made the original great — and ended up being viewed by most horror fans as just a cash grab by Artisan Entertainment. Indeed, The Blair Witch Project is one of the movies that laid the groundwork for modern found footage horror, and if any future sequels are to achieve success, they need to exceed or at least match the very standards that the original set in the horror sub-genre.

Next: The Blair Witch Project’s Fictional Legend Explained

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