In Blair Witch, six campers retrace Heather, Michael, and Josh's hike through the Black Hills, only to discover that the demonic forces are even fiercer than legend told. Through his new characters' pre-attack banter, Barrett name checks the pillars of the "Blair Witch" myth: there's "Elly Kedward," the woman from Blair, MD who was burned at the stake for crimes of "witchcraft" back in 1785, only to "return" as a ghost the following year; there's "Eileen Treacle," a settler of Burkittsville, MD who drowned after a white hand reportedly yanked her into the Tappy East Creek; and there's "Rustin Parr," a serial killer of children who acted "on instruction" from the "Blair Witch."
"When you talk about the historical figures caught up in this legend," Barrett says, "you have to ask yourself: are these the cause of the haunting or are they symptoms of it?"
Blair Witch makes the case for the latter. In the early stages of Barrett's nightmarish cat-and-mouse game, we see the Black Hills' invisible forces trap the campers in a time-shifting plane of existence. An afternoon amounts to five days for the wandering Land and Talia, the local guides booted by the core group after being total bullshit artists (or so everyone assumed). Barrett says the original movie actually gave us this taste of time travel -- he just blew it out.
"When [Heather, Michael, and Josh] find Rustin Parr's house at the end of the film, the movie tells you the house was burned down after he was hanged." In Blair Witch, that insinuation is expanded into a literal time loop, which (if I'm reading this correctly) ties the final scene of the film back to a YouTube video viewed by the campers before their big trip. Barrett won't tell me flat out that his group witnesses their own demises, but he's frank about playing with the mind-boggling logic in the name of scares.
"I wanted to create as many unique set pieces as possible ... If you experienced permanent night and claustrophobia in the woods, it would be incredibly unnerving. There's something primal about human instincts about the terror of being lost in the woods."
The biggest lingering mystery involves Ashley (played by actress Corbin Reid), who cuts her foot while crossing the Tappy East Creek and, a few hours later, suffers... what, an allergic reaction? There's more to her cut than infection and blood, as evidenced when a limb begins to protrude from the wound.
"That references a couple things form the original mythology," Barrett says. The inciting incident in the creek is a nod to Eileen Treacle's watery death. Whatever reached out and grabbed the girl also sliced Ashley's foot. Barrett also references passages from Cult of the Blair Witch, which suggest that Elly Kedward could speak to the forest and command the trees.