When The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, a good portion of audiences thought it was real. The found-footage horror film was unique then, a surprise to audiences used to seeing traditional Hollywood films. Filmmakers at the time used viral marketing to plant myths and stories online, claiming the film to be real. Rumors of audiences vomiting in the theater from fear, or crying in the aftermath, helped perpetuate the idea that The Blair Witch Project was, in fact, real footage recovered from 1994, as the film claimed. Looking back, it seems absurd, but you can't help but wonder what if some of it was real? And, if The Blair Witch Project is real, then is Blair Witch real too?
The reality of releasing a movie in 2016 pretty much makes it impossible for the Blair Witch filmmakers to keep up a charade about the movie being real. The actors, still mostly unknown, are on a massive publicity tour, and have given interviews prior to the release of the film, something stars of the original did not do. Still, the new movie tried to use some of the tricks the original used to make the film feel more real. For one thing, it's set in the very real town of Burkittsville, Maryland. Similar to the original, the main character, James, shares his name with the actor who portrays him, James Allen McCune — though he is the only actor who has the same name as his character.
As you can see from a live Twitter Q&A with the cast and crew below, no one is trying to pretend Blair Witch is real this time around, and that's probably for the best. (Hopefully actors' parents won't be receiving condolence cards, like Heather Donahue's did.)
The movie itself is also not entirely convincing as a real found footage movie, which I assume is on purpose. Blair Witch reflects the advancements in technology that have occurred in the two decades since the release of the original film, which means that the protagonists are equipped with almost three times as many cameras as those in the original. The idea of a found footage film implies little, if any, editing by an outside party who discovered the footage, but, with so many cameras being used in the movie, it's impossible to watch it and not think of how someone had to edit the film. In other words: Blair Witch isn't desperate to convince you it's real either.
Not only are the characters and events shown in Blair Witch not real, but the myth of the Blair Witch was also fabricated for the original film. In other words, Blair Witch isn't even based on any real ghost stories.
Before The Blair Witch Project was released, filmmakers Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick, along with the three main stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams, developed an entire mythology and story around the Blair Witch. Everything came from the filmmakers, from the legend of a woman, Elly Kedward, persecuted for being a witch in 1785, who is now haunting the Black Hills Forrest, to the story of a massacre at Coffin Rock. It was all fabricated by filmmakers and released online prior to the film's release.
Blair Witch isn't even close to being real, but that's part of why the film is so impressive. It feels real, and, despite the fact that audiences know better, there's still some small part in everyone's mind wondering if it could be true.