While director Adam Wingard's upcoming Blair Witch is technically the second sequel in the Blair Witch franchise, following Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the movie doesn't pay any attention to its predecessor. From an outside perspective, this makes plenty of sense, given that the 2000 film was a received tremendously poorly, but the real explanation for its exclusion is actually a lot simpler than that: the canon for the franchise only includes work made by or in coordination with the creative team responsible for creating the original, and that doesn't include Book of Shadows.
The continuity of the Blair Witch franchise was something I talked about at length with screenwriter Simon Barrett a few weeks when I had the chance to interview him over the phone. Curious about the fact that Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was in no way referenced in the new film, I asked the filmmaker what he considered to be part of the larger universe going forward, and he explained in great detail:
I made the decision with my research that anything that had the involvement of the original filmmakers, which I would say I would include production designer, Ben Rock, who directed the TV documentary. I would consider than canon. Curse of the Blair Witch is canon, the Blair Witch Dossier is canon, but like The Blair Witch case files, those young adult books [aren't]. Anything that involved Eduardo Sanchez, Dan [Myrick], Greg Hale, and their kind of core creative team, I considered canon, and I would allow that kind of research to influence what I was doing. Everything else, including Book of Shadows, which notably did not have the involvement of the original filmmakers, I would not consider canon.
For those unfamiliar with the story behind the making of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the film started moving through development shortly after the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, as Artisan Entertainment wanted to immediately capitalize on the success of their hit movie. As a result, Haxan Films - the production company made up of Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Daniel Myrick, Robin Cowie and Michael Monell, who made the first feature - was basically cut out of the process.
If you were planning to watch (or rewatch) Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 before seeing Blair Witch, the good news is that now you don't have to. That being said, Simon Barrett also made it clear that it's not his intention to disrespect those who are actual fans of the first follow-up, and as a result the new movie doesn't really do anything to step on the events that went down in that film. Said Simon Barrett,
We also tried to not do anything that directly contradicted it, because I wanted to be respectful to the fan experience, whatever it is. Now, I think it isn't a huge number of people [who are fans of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, but I want to be respectful to that. It's not like Star Wars, where everyone is like staring at you and waiting to see if you're going to include the Ewok movie in your continuity.
In fact, at the end of the day Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard really only view one piece of material as being completely outside the Blair Witch canon:
With Blair Witch, there is a rich universe out there of materials that were created at the time of the first film, and the only things I'm actively dismissing are the Todd McFarlane action figures. I'm dismissing that. I think that was just... we'll call that fan art.
So no, this is not what the Blair Witch actually looks like:
Do you think Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard made the right choice when it came to determining the continuity for the Blair Witch franchise? Hit the comments section below with your thoughts, and look for the new film in theaters this Friday.