Warning: Major spoilers ahead!
When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it was a phenomenon. Now, found footage horror movies are commonplace, but at the time it was completely novel. The story was pretty straightforward. A trio of filmmakers, led by Heather with Josh and Mike on production and sound, went into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to document the legend of the Blair Witch. Unfortunately they’re stalked and ultimately killed by the witch, leaving only their footage behind. At least, that’s how the movie made it seem.
While there are plenty of theories out there that explain what may have actually happened to the characters, there’s one that’s so good it should be canon. There was no Blair Witch at all. The documentary was just a ruse for Josh and Mike to murder Heather.
Not convinced? I was skeptical, too. But if you read on, you’ll probably become a convert too. (All timestamps are from u/TomKatDF2’s great work, though his theory is a little different.)
Josh might have a motive.
The connections between Josh, Heather, and Mike are hinted at in the very beginning of the movie. It’s established that Josh and Heather are some type of friends. Originally, they were meant to be exes who were still working together on the project. Even if that wasn’t explicitly stated in the film, there does seem to be animosity from the start. As part of the promotion for the movie, they released Heather’s journal online, which was supposedly found under the abandoned house where she’d eventually die. In it, she says “Josh does not listen to me at all and he’s supposed to be my friend.” He clearly doesn’t like her, which may be a clue that he’s got motive.
Add to that the fact that Josh is the one who hired Mike. At 02:15, Heather tells Mike that it’s nice to meet him. They’ve never met, he’s not being paid, yet Mike is agreeing to go on this trip. Why? What’s in it for him? Maybe he’s just interested in helping his friend Josh get rid of the one person who’s been getting on his nerves for years.
We never see or hear the witch.
This is one of the biggest reasons why this theory works so well. Although they show the supernatural aspects in the 2016 sequel, that wasn’t the case in the original. We never actually see the witch. Sure, we see some stick figures hanging in the trees and some rock formations outside the tent, but those can be easily explained as random objects or things the guys did while Heather was asleep.
And in fact, the only person who does seem to hear the witch is Josh. At 17:00, Josh tells Heather about how he heard strange cackling in the night while she’d been asleep. This helps the theory two-fold: It keeps Heather scared and it sets up their alibi for anyone who may find the footage.
The guys remove all ways for Heather to find her way out.
Once they’re heading back to the car, it should just be an easy straight shot back. Heather shows them on the map how they’re going to go, but the guys argue with her every step of the way. At 20:37, Mike even says he can’t read maps, that it’s “like Greek to [him].”
One morning the map goes missing and not only do the guys suddenly not seem concerned, but they actively start leading the way. The two guys who insist they have no idea where they are are leading the one person who actually has experience. Heather had been preparing for this trip for ages, reading survival manuals and learning how to navigate in the woods.
At this point, Heather is skeptical about the missing map and she starts to question the motives of Mike and Josh. She says at 38:45, “You guys weren’t lying to me about the map, were you? ‘Cause this just seems like you guys are having just a little bit too much fun for my taste.”
Sure enough, she’s right. At 39:36 Mike admits that he kicked the map into the creek. And at 41:11, we see that Mike is wearing the compass, despite supposedly not knowing how to use it. When she asks for it, Josh immediately asks for it from Heather. They don’t want her to find her own way out.
Josh hints at his plan.
You may be wondering why the guys would be going through an elaborate ruse to kill Heather while actively filming the experience. Wouldn’t that just give their whole plan away if anyone saw the footage? At 50:10, Josh actually explains it away. With Heather’s camera in-hand, he says:
I see why you like this video camera so much… it’s not quite reality… nah, but it’s totally like a filtered reality, man… it’s like you can pretend everything is not quite the way it is.
Thanks for the hint, Josh.
Mike leads Heather right to the house.
At 58:18, Josh goes missing. This is when things get really frantic for the remaining pair, especially Heather. That night, after dark, they can hear Josh yelling and screaming in the distance. Despite Heather and the audience never hearing the actual witch, we can clearly hear Josh. It’s significantly more likely that Josh is choosing to scream to scare Heather than there being a witch.
The next night, at 1:12:12, they hear Josh screaming again. He distinctly yells “somebody, please!” At this point, Mike and Heather set out at a run. While Mike had essentially been following Josh’s or Heather’s lead this whole time when it came to setting out on a path, now he’s suddenly the one leading the charge. He chooses a seemingly random direction and sets out at a run. Now it’s Heather’s turn to follow Mike, and he quickly leads her right to an abandoned house. What a coincidence! It’s almost as if Mike knew exactly where to go. Not only that, but Josh’s screams could easily be a signal to Mike that he was ready for them to arrive at the house.
Mike announces where they’re headed.
This is the most damning evidence to me. At 1:14:04, Mike runs ahead into the house. From here on out, Mike yells every motion that he and Heather make. He yells “I’m in the house!” as soon as he gets there. Heather is right behind him, so why is he yelling so loudly? For whose benefit? He yells “I’m going upstairs!” then leads Heather up there. As soon as they’re at the end of the hallway, he turns back, runs past Heather, and announces loudly, “I hear him downstairs” as he makes his way down, running quickly and leaving Heather behind.
Now, why would Mike be announcing their every move? Think of it this way: If you were planning an attack on Heather and you were waiting in the basement, you’d likely need to know where they were in order to know when to strike. Mike alerts Josh to their movements so he can be ready to attack.
Heather is the only confirmed kill.
Once Heather finally makes it into the basement, she flashes briefly on Mike standing facing the corner before we hear her get hit. At 1:17:05, she drops her camera and that’s the end of the movie. Fans watching the film assumed that Mike and Josh probably died there as well. After all, the publicity around the movie hyped it up that none of the three were ever seen again. Did we see Josh die? Nope. The last evidence of Josh was him yelling. Did we see Mike die? No, he was just standing in the corner.
With no actual evidence of a witch or any other supernatural phenomena, combined with how poorly Josh and Mike treated Heather and how blatant Mike’s yells were in the abandoned house, this theory seems legit. In the end, Josh and Mike wanted Heather out of the picture, and they used her documentary about a local legend as a way to do it.
You can see some evidence of this theory in the video below, created by Film Theory: