What’s it About?
A group of friends who venture into the remote Texas woods for a party weekend find themselves stalked by Bigfoot.
Directed by Eduardo Sánchez
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “A group of people walk into the woods…”
By the time I finally got around to watching “Exists,” I had already seen and reviewed a few other Bigfoot films which included, “The Lost Coast Tapes,” recently “Animal” and the surprisingly effective “Willow Creek” from Bobcat Goldthwaite. Both of those films were shot in a POV, docu-style, trying to pass off as found footage. Ultimately, there are many more of these films out in the ether, especially on Netflix, that have saturated the sub-genre of the bigfoot / found footage flick (sometimes I wonder if that should even be a subgenre). Most are assuredly pretty bad, others passable only in the “so bad it’s good” way. Those are the ones that are tailor made for viewers that love a tongue in cheek and guilty pleasure, here and there, similar to how those brilliant “Sharknado” movies made us feel.
“Exists,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez (Altered and Lovely Molly), who brought us the grand-daddy of the found footage film, “The Blair Witch Project,” falls somewhere in the middle of that paradigm that juggles, quite unsuccessfully, all of the cliches and tropes, with genuine fright, fear and suspense. I ask: Why are we made to endure these movies? We know, almost immediately and going in, that these movies will no doubt disappoint but we check them out anyway. Well, I probably cannot offer any real distinctive answer. Too many variables there for me to make an assumption. The reason I watched, honestly, is that I love films and documentaries about Cryptos (Or Cryptids?). I know many think it’s all bunk and hokey and somewhat cuckoo but I enjoy the various interpretations of how these monsters are projected in a movie or TV Doc.
Despite Sanchez’ affinity for found footage (he also delivered “The Ride in the Park” segment for V/H/S 2), I found that “Exists” may have been better realized as a straight forward narrative. I am going to put my head on the chopping block for this, but, these FF films just don’t really cut it anymore. I may be making a generalization but “Exists” proves that all of the clever ideas in this genre have been executed and there is nothing really new under that sun. They are their own worst enemies because thay fall into and are defined by all of the tropes that never seem to come across as original or apparent. The same goes for the “film crew in a abandoned sanitarium” (the Grave Encounters films, not-withstanding) or house or mine or whatever, the list goes on and on.
Without going into too much of the story, since there is not too much of one, Sanchez starts us off with a band of young people, a pair of brothers, a horny couple and one brother’s girlfriend. They joke, frolic and tease each other on the way to a remote cabin in Texas, that belongs to the the Uncle of the brothers. On their way there, they hit something. They get out to investigate but only get scared off by noises in the woods. Now, at this point, the gang start making really dumb decisions and choices that are really annoying, typical and rote.
They do not cry out to see if they hit a human being, instead they cram right back into the car and continue driving. They get road-blocked by a fallen tree. Huh? A fallen tree?
Then they brave walking the rest of the way to the cabin. Once they get there, they find the cabin (where we get a wild animal lurking about scare) in disrepair and decide that it is unfit to sleep in. So they go back to the car to sleep. Another, huh? The next day the gang all continue their vacations with some swimming, sex videotaping and BMX ramping into the lake. Then they go back to the cabin to stay. So, um, now the cabing is ok to sleep in, why? Because it’s daylight? Third, huh?
Things progress and start to get serious when one brother starts to hear and see things in the woods. Being the reliably stoned and intrepid videographer that he is, he sets up cams and starts to record everything. While, pissing off the others for various reasons, he manages to remain convinced that there is a creature lurking about. The rest all settle in at the cabin and then Sanchez continues with the classic, by now, very routine machinations. You’ll know what I mean if you decide to watch this movie.
Sanchez hits just about every found footage mark and if you a sucker for them, then this is right up your alley. There are obligatory cheap scares, the actual attack on the cabin and then the gang eventually gets seperated resulting in one brother riding off to get help on a bike. As he makes a run for it on his bicycle, with the reliable Go Pro-like POV in full effect, Sanchez gives us a nice taste of what he has in store for us and just in time, too.
The film remains a fast affair and goes by pretty efficiently clocking in at just under an hour and a half. So in this time constraint, Sanchez admirably ratchets the action in the last 15-20 minutes. Here, is where the film narrowly redeems itself but very briefly. After more obligatory chases, close calls (the gang even hide out in some cellar under the floor boards ala Evil Dead), freak outs and monster mayhem, Sanchez starts to make good on his ambitious little flick. He makes his Bigfoot a pretty scary bad ass and the creature, looking almost more neaderthal than, say, a gorilla or wookie, comes across as an intelligent entity with a purpose. The close ups that Sanchez provide of the menacing beast are chilling and effective, showing off some very good make up fx. The finale, which is pretty much an extended chase scene, is fierce and generally well done for the budget. Sanchez makes it feel much bigger than it really has any right to be.
During a rescue of one of the brothers in a small and claustrophobic hole, Sanchez really adds a layer of tension that is palpable. His subsequent abandoned RV attack is also pretty well staged and helps to move the finale along ala Spielberg’s “The Lost World.” Even the Uncle arrives to save the day…sort of. Everything comes to a head and Sanchez wraps up all of the loose ends, explaining the truth of what the gang actually collided with on that dark road at night. Even the unconventional ending is brave and quite good for all of the trappings and universe that this film inhabits. Too bad that the mundane found footage / POV narrative (so much is illogical which makes you wonder why and how a character is always running a video camera) shows it’s seams and the movie only briefly gets it’s head above the muck to entertain.
“Exists,” written by Jamie Nash (Altered, Lovely Molly), is a flick with noticeably bad and uninteresting cardboard characters, hokey and boring dialog, no self restraint and is a very predictable endeavor. For most of the running time, sans the quick and exciting finale, “Exists” is plain, generic and even the monster mayhem at the cabin is less likely to impress than what comes near the end when the group is left to their own devices in the woods.
The finale is probably the best thing about the film and when the movie has such a short running time, it manages to get there quickly but I question just how many people, who may be fed up with this sub-genre already, will be willing to sit through the manipulations and repetitious gunk to get there. I lost count of how many times the camera falls to the ground and we are left watching something fall into the frame. Yawn. The movie, in my opinion does indeed suffer from “too little too late” unfortunately. Sanchez has some strong directing chops, like he proved with his unique “Altered” and he knows how to stage action but with his return to found footage / POV horror, he gets caught in that mire of convention that he himself created and finely tuned with the much more creepier and oblique “The Blair Witch Project”
Proceed with caution on this one, gang.