“Exists” Takes Found Footage Back to the Woods

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Eduardo Sanchez may not have invented found footage filmmaking but he, along with Daniel Myrick, did helm the movie that popularized the subgenre for the mainstream.  Most of his work, from Altered to Lovely Molly, has used similar film styles to tell their tales, so it’s no surprise he returns to the well again for the Bigfoot-based Exists.  It is odd to me that someone most known for his work in found footage should choose to remain in this rather limited vein of storytelling, but go with what you know, I suppose.  In the case of Exists, the result is uneven, but there are certainly things about the movie that work, despite their familiarity.

I should pause a moment to say that I adore Bigfoot films, and I’m disappointed there aren’t that many good ones.  You can direct me to the ones you think are best right here.  When I was younger, I recall seeing a movie, whose title I no longer remember, in which a cabin was assaulted by rocks thrown by angry Bigfeet (Bigfoots?).  The image stuck with me, and I still think of it when I’m in a cabin.  The Bigfoot is a great monster, in that it is human-like in its ferocity, but ‘of nature,’ a great analogue for man’s intrusion into the wild and subsequent retaliation by said forces of nature.  I don’t necessarily believe Bigfoots (Sasquatcharum?) are real, but they work nicely for thematic reasons.  All that is to say I  am predisposed to enjoying a movie that feature a vengeful Bigfoot (Larry?) wreaking havoc on stupid teenagers.

This story doesn’t try anything fancy, giving us, the viewers, a group of five young adults on their way to a hunting cabin in East Texas.  During their nighttime drive, their SUV strikes an animal on the road.  When they stop to investigate, they see no sign of the wounded animal, save for some blood and fur on the grill of the car, but catch an earful of animal-like cries from the depths of the dark woods.

One of the group, younger brother Brian (Chris Osborn), is a camera-obsessed pothead who captures a flash of something at the time of the collision, and, fueled by his uncle’s tales of strange wildlife near the cabin, proceeds to stalk the woods in search of the mysterious creature.  Meanwhile, older brother Matt (Samuel Davis), his girlfriend Dora (Dora Madison Burge), and their friends Todd (Roger Edwards) and Elizabeth (Denise Williamson), are riding mountain bikes into rivers, drinking, and generally having a good time.  It’s not until Brian catches sight of a Bigfoot haunting the woods near the cabin that anyone takes any of this seriously.  When the cabin is assaulted and their SUV trashed, the tension heightens and soon the kids are fighting for their lives against an enormous primate with an ax to grind.

There are some nice moments of tension in the film, and even a couple of the expected jump scares work fairly well, despite being telegraphed.   The characters are, for the most part, bearable people, a nice switch from the usual irritating monster-fodder, but, aside from Brian, I didn’t come away from the film with any sense that I could describe their characters beyond the role they serve for the script.  I understand it’s not the point of a movie like this, but having someone to root for is always nice.

If anyone is going to rip off The Blair Witch Project, Sanchez should feel no qualms about using the playbook he assisted in creating, and Exists has plenty of moments to remind you of Blair Witch.  Walking through the woods calling someone’s name?  Check.  I member of the party calling out in pain from… somewhere?  Check.  Feeling lost in said woods?  Check.  Weird constructions in the forest?  Check.  It’s not that any of this is bad, it’s just familiar in a way that feels a little lazy.  As with most found footage tales, this one, too, suffers from “Put-that-down-itis,” where someone at some point in the movie has to tell the obsessive cameraman to put down his camera and help.  I wish more movies handled that aspect as well as Afflicted or even Chronicle, but Exists isn’t the worst, either.  Another thing I saw again in Exists I would like to call a public moratorium on is a black character in a group of white people saying “Black people don’t do x,” or some variation on this.  Can’tScreen-Shot-2014-08-26-at-9.48.39-PM he just be a friend who doesn’t have to call out his race?  It’s not just Exists that is guilty of this, but I think we can all agree that a black friend does not necessarily have to call attention to his black-ness in every horror movie.  But I digress…

One last complaint.  Sanchez and writer Jamie Nash tease the question of why this Bigfoot is so pissed off as to be actively trying to murder these kids.  This might work for those who have previously never been exposed to cinema, but for most of us it’s more a matter of when the reveal will be shown, not what that reveal might be.  When it does come, it’s nice, but to play it as some sort of great mystery is a mistake, I believe.

Despite all the complaints above, Exists gets a few things right.  The monster is not always hidden in shadow, and, even though we don’t get a good, long look for much of the movie, we see plenty to feel the threat, and one scene with the creature running alongside a mountain bike is particularly effective.  The final scene also works well, and leaves the viewer with a sense of some sort of resolution, which is nice in this style of film.

At the end of the day, Exists is a competent, above-average found footager with a good monster and characters you may not know well, but don’t actively detest, either.  If you like found footage movies or Bigfoot movies, there’s something here you’ll enjoy.  If you’re looking for something new and different… well, have you seen Afflicted?