Since we never actually see The Blair Witch in the film (not even in the final sequence where Heather Donahue and Mike Williams are implied to be murdered), and rather than taking for granted that The Blair Witch was the murderer, we thought we should examine "who actually did the killing?"
Obviously, this article is loaded with spoilers. You have been warned!
This column will strictly be an examination of the events within the running time of The Blair Witch Project film itself (not including the events of the sequel). There is expanded-upon information, along with character bios, now listed on The Blair Witch website and Wikia pages, which I will not go into here.
"A year later their footage was found."
Prior to heading out to on their journey to document the mystery of The Blair Witch, we see Heather Donahue, Mike Williams, and Josh Leonard gathering up their equipment and gear. Heather packs her "essential readings" -- How to Stay Alive in the Woods, and another book that she says explains the events of Coffin Rock. It isn't long before the trio hits the town of Burkittsville, MD, (formerly Blair) where they shoot their first scene in the town's cemetery up on the hill. Founded in 1824, Heather explains how an "unusually high number of children are laid to rest there."
Soon after, the trio begins interviewing a number of the Burkittsville townsfolk about the legend of The Blair Witch. The summaries of those interviews are as follows: The Blair Witch is mostly looked at as a legend or a ghost used for the purposes of scaring children to get them to go to bed early. One man ties in the story of the old hermit named Mr. Rustin Parr, who lived all alone up on the mountain in the 1940s. One day, Mr. Parr came down into town saying, "Okay, I'm finished," at which point the police went up and searched his property, uncovering the bodies of seven boys who had earlier gone missing in the area. The story goes that Mr. Parr would take the boys down into his basement in pairs of two, telling one to face the corner while he killed the other, then subsequently killing the second child. In court, Parr said he couldn't take the eyes on him, which is why he'd make them face the corner. There is also another story about two hunters, who were camping out by the old cabin The Blair Witch used to haunt. They disappeared off the face of the earth.
Upon visiting Mary Brown (recommended by a prior interviewee), the three filmmakers listen to her story about a supposed encounter she had with the Blair Witch while out fishing in the woods. She explains how The Blair Witch gave off an eerie feeling and had a body covered in black fur, which she concealed with a wool shawl. They, along with the townsfolk, chalk her up as crazy.
The next morning the trio meet two locals fishing in the creek. The men share a story about Robin Weaver, who wandered off into the woods in the 1840s, only to reappear three days later talking of a woman who's feet never touched the ground. One of the fishermen further says he saw a white mist nearby, but couldn't explain how it related to the events that took place at Coffin Rock. The three filmmakers soon arrive at Coffin Rock, where Heather reads a passage explaining the horrific events that took place at the location. History says five men were found bound to one another, their torsos cut open with the intestines ripped out and the flesh of their faces inscribed with indecipherable etching. When the people returned with law enforcement a short while later, the bodies were removed "by persons unknown."
The three-piece filmmaking team experiences many strange occurrences over the course of their nights in the woods. Among the creepy things encountered are middle-of-the-night cackling surrounding their tent, and seven spooky rock piles, presumably for each of Mr. Parr's child victims... one of which Josh accidentally kicks over. One morning, the trio wakes up to find three piles of rocks (that weren't there when they crashed the night before) surrounding their tent, likely marking them as targets. They also later encounter tons of stick figures tied in trees. Lastly, they have their campsite destroyed... specifically Josh's stuff, which gets covered in a disgusting slimy substance.
After five nights of horror in the woods, Josh disappears without a trace, and can only be heard at night screaming for help. The next morning, a bundle of sticks tied with pieces of Josh's flannel shirt appears outside their tent. Upon closer inspection, the shirt is covered in blood and inside it they find unidentifiable items, of which fan speculation has called teeth, hair, a finger, a tongue, bone and/or Josh's necklace.
-1840s: Robin Weaver disappears into the woods. Returns speaking of "a woman who's feet never touched the ground."
-Then we have the five men murdered at Coffin Rock, bound to one another, their intestines removed and their faces etched with unreadable writing. The bodies later disappear.
-1940s: Mr. Rustin Parr confesses to killing several missing, area children. Seven dead boys' bodies are found on his property and he subsequently admits in court how he murdered them in pairs, one facing the corner while he killed the other one.
-Then we have first-person accounts from Mary Brown, who saw the fur-covered witch while fishing in the woods, as well as the fishermen who saw the strange mist over the creek.
-Finally the trio of filmmakers ventures into the woods and has the host of scary encounters.
Mike immediately enters the house and bravely races upstairs using only his camera light and Josh's screaming voice as a guide. Heather, frightened beyond belief, does her best to keep up with him, chasing behind with her own camera.
As the two rush up the stairs, children's handprints can be seen cluttering the dank, decrepit walls. These are a likely indicator we are inside the home where Rustin Parr murdered the seven innocent children some years ago. Upon reaching the upper level of the house, Josh's voice now appears to be coming from the basement. Mike, reaching an almost panic state, blasts down into the cellar hoping to find Josh, but when we see his camera hit the ground, we know this is not the case.
A screaming Heather reaches the cellar (likely the dreaded scene of the original Parr children murders), to find Mike facing the corner of the room. She deliriously screams until her camera also hits the floor, as she is presumably killed.
But what does this mean?
The film doesn't touch on her origins but her Wikia page (found here) has since added a fair amount of information to her backstory that also could lead fans to believe this to be true. Her name was Elly Kedward (September 11, 1729 - February, 1785) and, after being accused of witchcraft, she was banished from the town of Blair and taken to the woods where she was severely beaten, tortured and subsequently hung from the branch of a tree.
Although she was believed to have died, her spirit was said to have been responsible for repeated child abductions that took place in the middle of the woods nearby Blair—a phenomenon that provoked the townsfolk to later abandon the village altogether. If it is to be believed she as the killer, then Rustin Parr's confession to the murders of the seven children would have to be negated—something technically not difficult to do since Parr himself admitted in court that he indeed was insane.
So, it's likely that Parr was influenced by The Blair Witch to commit the murders of the children (an idea that has since been written into his Wikia page), which means that The Blair Witch does not, in fact, actually commit the murders herself but possesses and/or influences others to do so. That said, many fans have come to believe that Josh is the likely suspect as the one who murdered Mike and Heather. The fact that his belongings were targeted when their campsite was destroyed would also suggest that The Blair Witch was targeting him even earlier on their trip.
But how do we explain why Mike would agree to face the corner. In the story of Parr, the children were forced to face the corner because Rustin didn't want them to watch as he killed the other child. The fact that Mike doesn't even appear to be scared, but rather "dazed" or "controlled" by an unseen presence, further validates this notion that Mike was responding to a possessed Josh. So, in the end, Josh is the most likely candidate to have actually pulled off the killings at the end of the film.
Some speculate that, while Josh was the nicest and most passive of the three, it was Mike who was the weakest of the bunch. After all, he was the one most frightened when the cackling surrounded their tent at night. He was also very vocal about his hesitance to pursue the making of the documentary after they began to experience strange phenomenon in the woods. Not only that, Mike was the one responsible for kicking the map into the creek — an act which he made sound like was done out of sheer frustration.
Did Mike intentionally sabotage the trio? Were his malicious acts beyond his control? Did The Blair Witch strike first with Mike, propelling him to ditch the map, after which she abducted Josh and used him as human bait. In the final scene, Mike is the driving force that leads he and Heather into the abandoned building where they meet their fate. If the Mike & Josh theory is to be believed, it may also explain why Mike, a grown man, was willingly standing in the corner. Either he was under possession of The Blair Witch or he was part of the human bait used to lure in Heather.
"Actually, we came up with that particular ending pretty late in the game. We were only a few days from shooting before Ed [Eduardo Sánchez] and I decided on going with Mike "standing in the corner". At the time we thought it was the right balance between needing a payoff for the audience, yet retaining the mystery of what happened to the filmmakers."
Interestingly enough, Myrick further stated that it was actually after shooting the ending that he and Sánchez decided to go back and film additional footage focusing "Rustin Parr's twisted methodology" and "evil deeds"... forcing the kids to stand in the corner while he tortured and killed them. Myrick called the process a sort of "backwards engineered" method. It just goes to show you that sometimes the most brilliant, and in this case creepiest, ideas can come at the most unlikely of times.
Fans can start getting excited as Blair Witch 3 is currently in discussions.