Over the past couple decades, The Blair Witch Project has proven to be one of the most influential films ever. Between its groundbreaking found-footage aesthetic and pioneering marketing approach, Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s movie has cast a long shadow. Perhaps the most beguiling and memorable moments of the movie is its final scene, which continues to shock viewers to this day. What makes the Blair Witch ending so special? How did its directors pull it off?
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The Blair Witch Project Ending Explained
The Blair Witch Project ending recap
Before we get into the power of The Blair Witch Project ending, let’s go over what exactly happens in the movie’s final minutes. After all, it’s been over twenty years.
The movie begins with three characters — Heather, Mike, and Josh — filming a documentary in the woods. But by the third act, Josh has disappeared and Heather and Mike are haunted by the sounds of his distant screaming throughout the night. In a nutshell, things are not going well.
Eventually, Heather and Mike stumble upon a dilapidated and seemingly abandoned house. Of course, they enter, hoping to find Josh. Instead, they find handprints staining the house’s walls.
The two are separated, and as Heather screams out for him, Mike wanders into the basement. He gets struck by something and falls to the floor.
Heather eventually makes her way down the stairs and finds him in the corner of the basement, facing the wall. Despite Heather yelling his name, Mike remains motionless, and eventually something prompts Heather to drop her own camera, which sputters, now broken.
Give the scene a watch here:
With that, the movie comes to a close. Now, let’s answer the question many viewers are left with once the credits start rolling: what just happened?
Blair Witch Project Theories
Blair Witch Project explained
Let’s back up. To understand what happened at the end of The Blair Witch Project, we need some context. The Blair Witch ending makes a lot more sense when you consider why Heather, Mike, and Josh were out in the woods to begin with.
As the beginning of the film establishes, Heather is hoping to shoot a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch. But the witch isn’t really the most unnerving story they learn of while conducting interviews with the townsfolk.
Through multiple interviews, we are presented with the story of Rustin Parr, a serial killer who terrorized the town of Burkitsville back in 1940. According to residents filmed by Heather and her crew, Parr murdered seven children before being sentenced to death.
Parr told authorities that he was driven to kill by an old lady adorned in black whom he met deep in the woods. Presumably, this was the witch.
Here’s where the Blair Witch ending begins to click: Parr’s murderous routine consisted of taking children to his house in the woods.
He would bring the kids into his basement in pairs, and make one child face the corner while he killed the other.
Sound familiar? Heather and Mike took the role of the two children. Mike faced the corner and Heather, we’re left to guess, was killed.
Who attacked or killed Heather and Mike is up for debate, since there’s no hard evidence provided by the film. Was it the Blair Witch? Josh, perhaps possessed by the witch? Fan theories abound, but we’ll probably never know for sure.
The significance of the Blair Witch ending is heightened by how it came to be.
The Blair Witch Project Ending Explained
Making the end of Blair Witch
The making of Blair Witch has been much-discussed, but this is for good reason. The film’s creation is as improbable as it is groundbreaking.
BWP was shot on a minuscule $35,000 budget, and the actors were the actual camera operators throughout the shoot. Myrick and Sánchez found Heather, Mike, and Josh on Backstage, and in their auditions, they tested their improvisational abilities.
The directors kicked off auditions with the question, “You’ve served seven years of a nine year sentence. Why should we let you out on parole?” The actors then had to come up with an answer, and character, without any plan.
Watch Donahue recall the process here:
Once they were cast, the actors were sent out into the woods for 8 days. Sánchez and Myrick left them notes for what to cover each day via canisters that were left at various locations throughout the forest. It was then up to the performers to fill in the blanks.
When night fell, the directors and other members of the film crew would make noises outside of the actors’ tent, trying to scare them and deprive them of sleep. To make the experience even more uncomfortable, the directors left less and less food for the cast as the filming went on.
“By applying the same physical and mental stresses to the actors — lack of food, lack of sleep, walking them around, [messing] with them at night — we hoped by the time we really needed them to freak out, they would be able to tap into areas of their psyche they normally wouldn't be able to tap into.”
— Gregg Hale, Producer
In other words, when it seems like Heather and Mike are at the end of their wits by the final minutes of the film, that’s because they really are.
Sánchez and Myrick created an environment that would make the film feel as real as possible.
Needless to say, this strategy paid off. Many viewers genuinely weren’t sure if what they were seeing was in fact a documentary or not, adding to the terror of that final scene.
But the final scene wasn’t a given. After Blair Witch’s success at Sundance, it was picked up by Artisan Entertainment. The company, however, wasn’t so sure about the dark, open-ended finale.
Artisan paid for Myrick and Sánchez to return to the 200-year-old Griggs House where they shot the ending and filmed several more options. But after looking at each alternate, the two decided that the original was still the best.
Blair Witch Ending Explained
The film's lasting influence
It’s hard to overstate just how influential The Blair Witch Project has been. To this day, we see the effects of the film’s success.
Most apparently, Blair Witch resulted in a massive demand for found footage horror movies. Sánchez and Myrick weren’t the first to use the style, but they proved that it could create massive profit margins. After all, it costs just about nothing to make a found footage flick.
Paranormal Activity, for example, followed a similar formula with a reported budget of $15,000 and nearly $200 million in worldwide box office earnings. Found footage now has become a bit of a trope, but it’s by no means gone, especially in DIY horror spaces.
Perhaps Blair Witch’s biggest influence, however, was its use of the internet. Most scholars consider Blair Witch to be the first film to successfully employ viral marketing.
Myrick and Sánchez built a website for the film filled with additional material, like police reports and extended interviews, and it played a huge role in BWP’s popularity. By 1999, the site had 160 million hits.
“It was a film that was an underground movement, was something that you stumbled upon on the Internet, and that's what's so great about the Internet, the interactive medium of discovery. Websites are things that you happen upon or a friend tells you about it. Blair Witch and the mythology behind it lent itself to that movement, to that form of interaction.”
— Dan Myrick on the Blair Witch marketing
Today, just about every film tries to recreate the kind of viral attention Blair Witch got. Think about the marketing team for the horror movie Smile, which put creepy grinning actors in the crowds at sports games to get buzz online. Or, of course, there’s Barbenheimer – two films using the internet to promote the ultimate double-billing.
But none of the Blair Witch phenomenon would have been possible without a great film at the center of it. Blair Witch terrifies, and that’s in no small part due to its haunting ending. It’s one of the most effective horror finales ever.
Best Horror Movies Ever Made
The Blair Witch Project landed on our list of the best horror movies ever made. Read on to find out what other films have earned the same distinction. You might be surprised at what films made the list and their rankings.