WARNING: Spoilers for The Blair Witch Project ahead.
If you watch The Blair Witch Project now, you only get half of the experience. When the movie was originally released in 1999, the internet was still in its relative infancy. The movie’s marketing campaign—which blurred the lines between fact and fiction, and went viral before anyone even knew what that was—blew people’s minds. Was it real? Was it fake? Was it somehow both?
Heather Donahue, Josh Leonard, and Mike Williams—the movie’s stars—were listed as deceased on IMDb, so audiences felt like they might be watching real deaths play out onscreen. Plus, people kept throwing up in theaters, due to the film’s shaky camera, adding an extra dimension of terror to the whole experience.
Now, 25 years later, a new fan theory means the movie can be rewatched in a whole new way.
Redditor u/CartelKingpin posits the idea that, rather than the supernatural forces that seem responsible for all the monstrous acts in the film, the actual culprits could be … Mike and Josh. Were they the ones piling rocks up, deliberately going 'round in circles, driving Heather to insanity before killing her? Was terrorizing her, in fact, the titular Project?
There’s something compelling about the theory. While the three of them bicker throughout the film, it does feel like there’s a bit of a split along gender lines, with Josh and Mike on one team and Heather alone on the other. A bit of planning would create opportunities for spooky rock-piling, scarily discarded teeth and everything else, and the more emotionally heightened the whole situation got, the more of an effect every stage would have on poor Heather, until she was finally led into murderer Rustin Parr’s house by Mike and killed.
The theory puts an extra layer of hideousness on top of the movie’s genuine terror, with the real-world nature of it somehow uglier, scarier, and more vicious than the Blair Witch herself. A cursed supernatural being is a scary thing, but one you can rationalize away. But people doing very bad things? That’s all too real, and all too scary.
Yet, when you dig in deep to the theory, it’s hard not to find yourself asking: Why? If the guys’ plan was to kill Heather, then including their own deaths on the video was a terrible idea. The footage might have been cleverly made to look as though it depicted spooky supernatural acts, but as soon as Josh and Mike turned up alive it would be clear something was amiss. They’d have to go on the run and live the same kind of fugitive lifestyles as if they’d just ... murdered someone on camera. It would make the whole putting-on-a-show element fairly self-defeating.
So if the point was to kill Heather, they’d have been better off simply killing Heather and pretending they didn’t. Not killing Heather and pretending they were also dead. The only way it really works as a theory is if it comes with the qualifier that it’s kind of a terrible plan. There are plenty of those around, sure; but rather than adding to the movie, ultimately something’s lost if it’s the tale of Josh and Mike the killers rather than a mysterious malevolent force. And The Poorly Thought-Through Murder is nowhere near as strong a title as The Blair Witch Project.