The Blair Witch Project Ending Explained: As Maddening And Mysterious As It Was 20 Years Ago

The insidious ending of "The Blair Witch Project" has boggled my mind and the minds of many others for an incredible 20 years. As the story goes, attendees at Sundance 1999 didn't know if they were watching a fictional account or a tried and true documentary when Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez's masterpiece screened — and even now, in the age of the internet and the ability to debunk information at the stroke of our fingertips, it still packs just as much of a punch. Even more famously, the film's creators made an incredibly convincing companion mockumentary chronicling the legend of the Blair Witch prior to their world premiere, which really upped the ante when it came to the scares and the possible realities of it all. After all, what we concoct in our heads is almost always scarier than anything we may be shown, which, ultimately, is the name of the game with this iconic ending.

Remind Me How The Blair Witch Project Ends Again?

Glad you asked, but sort of wondering how you could possibly forget! After Josh (Joshua Leonard), one of the three college kids who set out to document the Blair Witch in her natural habitat, goes missing in the Black Hills forest of Burkitsville, Maryland, his cohorts Heather (Heather Donahue) and Mike (Michael C. Williams) start to panic looking for him. When night falls, they hear the sound of his screams, which forces them to attempt to save him. In the midst of their efforts, they discover a rundown house and enter it.

With two cameras, Heather and Mike search the disgusting, dilapidated house—which is covered in bloody handprints—and end up separated. Mike ends up in the basement of the house, but only manages to look around for a few seconds before something or someone off-camera knocks him out.

After a few seconds, we switch to Heather's camera as we hear her screaming for her friend. The camera seemingly glides through one of the house's hallways and down the stairs into the basement—and as it does, Heather's screams grow closer. The camera slowly pans to the corner of the room, where Mike is standing tucked into the corner as Heather screams his name. Seconds later, she is knocked out herself and the camera falls to the ground along with her. The footage lingers for several seconds on a choppy image of the basement floor before the credits roll.

So What Actually Happened in This Ending?

There are theories abound regarding the true nature of the "Blair Witch" ending, but there are two that seem to be the most plausible when you really think about it. But before we can talk theories, we need a refresher on the legend of Rustin Parr. Allow me to explain.

In the beginning of the film, Heather, Mike, and Josh interview several Burtkitsville locals about the Blair Witch and many of them discuss a former resident named Rustin Parr. In the fall and winter of 1940, several children from the town went missing around the same time. Rustin, who lived in a secluded area of the town on a hill, came into the center of town one day following the disappearances and claimed his work was "finished." Though they were unsure what he meant by that at the time, the police later searched his home and found the bodies of seven kids.

Rustin would, admittedly, take the children down to his basement in pairs, where he would force one of them to face into the corner while he killed the other. He would then kill the second child. In court, he claimed he couldn't stand being watched during the killings, which is why he devised the sadistic system.

Now that we have that covered, let's get to the theories. The first theory asserts that after Mike is knocked out in the basement, the perspective we change to is not Heather's, but the Blair Witch's herself. We don't see a moment where Heather loses the camera, but it isn't hard to justify the choice on the filmmakers' part. She could've easily dropped it in the chaos. Another element of the ending that supports this theory is the fact that the mysterious second wielder of Heather's camera is freakishly tall. When the camera pans down the basement steps, it almost hits the ceiling, which means the person or thing carrying it has some height on them.

The second theory—the still plausible but not the numero uno theory—supposes that the perspective change is actually from Heather to Josh, her and Mike's missing friend. This idea stems from the fact that Rustin Parr also claimed that a woman instructed him to perform his killings, a woman speculated to be the Blair Witch. This concept also supposes that Josh's screams on the night Heather and Mike find the Rustin Parr house were a ploy to get the director and the sound guy into the house—meaning he was under the Blair Witch's spell like Rustin Parr was.

Honestly, both theories track. The beauty of this film is that the filmmakers never give us quite enough to be sure of exactly what happens, just enough unsettling camera movement, horrifying set design, and petrified performances to absolutely terrify us until the end of time.

Does the Ending Actually Still Hold Up, Though?

It's hard to understate the utter star power of this ending and how it still holds its own in 2021. We don't speak of the utterly abysmal sequel "The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows," but the newer, more honorable installment, 2016's "Blair Witch," spent its 89-minute runtime making homage after homage to the original film. In fact, the movie's entire premise hinges on one of the 1999 chiller's final moments.

In director Adam Wingard's continuation, lead character James is Heather's younger brother, who becomes obsessed with finding her in the Black Hills forest after seeing a clip of what appears to be lost footage of Heather's potential last moments in the Rustin Parr house in 1999. He enlists three of his friends to join him in setting out to find her—including one friend who is, shocker, a documentary filmmaker—and they end up in a terrifying mess that harkens back to the film that started it all.

Though that film takes artistic liberties and creates new conventions for the "Blair Witch" universe to play in, it is clear that it is a direct continuation and heavily influenced by the maddening magic of the original's breathtaking ending. During an interview, Simon Barrett, who wrote the script for the 2016 picture, told me (in an aside that never got published) that he specifically wanted to write a "Blair Witch" movie for the die-hards, the people who knew and respected the lore. No matter how you feel about the movie, it's clear he succeeded.

From a filmmaking perspective, I firmly believe the original Blair Witch Project ending will never be topped, especially not in the found footage subgenre. The confusing perspectives, the anxiety-inducing camera work, the absolutely manic acting, the sublime set design. I could go on and on, but there were many elements that came together to make the perfect alchemical potion that is this ending. I'm just glad few people are denying its terrifying staying power.