Saturday, November 8, 2014

Exists (2014) review


Chris Osborn (Brian), Dora Madison Burge (Dora), Roger Edwards (Todd), Denise Williamson (Elizabeth), Samuel Davis (Matt), Brian Steele (Bigfoot), J.P. Schwan (Uncle Bob)

Directed by Eduardo Sanchez

The Short Version: The co-creator of the Blair Witch returns for more woodsian horror in this Found Footage film about an extremely aggressive forest giant violently lashing out at human interlopers. Instead of a calculated build to a goosebumper conclusion, Sanchez delivers one horror punctuated action set piece after another leading to a surprising climax that injects some humanity into its non-human subject. The blood and guts crowd won't like it; Bigfoot fans will. A good piece of entertainment EXISTS here.

Two brothers, along with three others, venture into the Texas wilderness to shoot some youtube videos while staying at their uncle's abandoned cabin. On their way to the isolated location, they accidentally hit something in the darkness, but continue on ahead. Not long after arriving, the group of friends discover that the two siblings had an entirely different reason for this trip, and also that something big, and very angry in the woods is stalking them.

The co-director of horror phenomenon THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) returns to both the woods, and the Found Footage style of genre cinema with EXISTS, a film about a group of friends making internet videos in the woods, and encountering an enraged Bigfoot. It's a solid, occasionally harrowing 81 minutes (76 of them are actual movie) where, once the 'Squatch makes its presence known, the tension never lets up.

Found Footage movies generally adhere to certain rules -- the bulk of their running time being given to a build up before a climactic payoff. Oftentimes these movies show very little, with only a modicum of special effects, and occasionally never reveal what the threat looks like. A lack of a music score usually aids in mounting the sense of dread. BLAIR WITCH wasn't the first such film to explore the FF schematic, but it was integral in laying out the blueprint for the dozens that came in its wake. Fifteen years later, they are still a profitable sub-genre. Sanchez breaks the rules he helped write into cinematic law by hurriedly getting to the action, and showing a great deal of its monster.

Bigfoot and Yeti's had been in movies since as far back as the 1950s, but it was THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) that made the Sasquatch sub-genre an enduring cultural favorite. That legendary film with its faux documentary style was the progenitor of the FF pictures that have been virtually unstoppable since BLAIR WITCH scared up millions at the box office. EXISTS treads similar ground (the screams of a friend off in the distance; the discovery of an abandoned domicile), but turns the slow build into a siege/chase picture that ends in a refreshing way, but a conclusion that may frustrate some who have come to expect the sort of endings FF is known for.

With little time spent building suspense, the handful of set pieces are spruced up with tense moments that lend them a scare or two. The siege of the cabin and discovery of an underground Bigfoot nest (so that's how they go undetected!) are two of the best examples of this. There's some great shots of the creature off in the distance a la Michael Myers; and the editing works wonders during the moments where the monster is on the move. Sanchez doesn't bog the film down with a lot of shaky cam, either; balancing it out with shots that resemble a real movie. 

The Found Footage format is custom made for the mysterious Bigfoot legend and Sanchez doesn't disappoint overall. His wasn't the first to showcase a Sasquatch as the subject of this still popular filming technique. Two other more recent examples -- which have differences between them in the styles in which they're made include Corey Grant's BIGFOOT: THE LOST COAST TAPES (2012) and Bobcat Goldthwait's critically lauded WILLOW CREEK (2013). The former is easily the most creative by introducing some new elements to the mythology; the latter, with its slow, encroaching sense of dread is even more BLAIR WITCH than Sanchez's Bigfoot venture.

The negatives in EXISTS are few, but likely won't make much difference for the audience these movies cater to. One of these is the build-up to the creature. There's not much discussion amongst the group regarding the Sasquatch legend, and they're attacked relatively quickly; with each subsequent assault increasing in intensity. It's not a huge deal, but again, a slow build is customary in these types of movies and Sanchez dispenses with it. 

Second, the characters aren't all that interesting. They're just there, and little time is spent with them to care about any single person once the Bigfoot begins its environmental clean-up. Brian, one of the Tover brothers whose uncle warned them never to go to the cabin, is the most likable of the bunch. He's the one holding the camera(s) through the bulk of the picture. Both he and his brother are ultimately responsible for the tragedy that befalls their friends -- luring them all out into the woods to shoot youtube videos when the real intention is to find proof of the existence of a Sasquatch; and the brothers get way more than they bargained for.

The Bigfoot is arguably one of the best ever seen in one of these types of movies. The suit looks great, and the actor inside of it (Brian Steele) conveys an incredible amount of fury during the creatures various rampages. Sound design and added effects make this enraged Paranthropus even more realistic. Throughout EXISTS we're given glimpses of it, but during the last ten minutes, the bellicose Bigfoot shows viewers just how photogenic it is.

If you're a fan of Bigfoot movies, Sanchez's film is among the best the sub-genre has to offer. If you're looking for gore, like in cult favorite NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1981), or the more recent ABOMINABLE (2006), you won't find any here. If you're interested in a fast moving, modest spooker with a few good 'boo' moments, such a thing EXISTS.

This review is representative of an On Demand airing.

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