Dir by Eduardo Sanchez
Written by Jamie Nash
Starring Samuel Davis, Doris Madison, Roger Edwards
Well, because I’m one of those guys who never learns, after the utter failure of Bobcat Goldthwait’s bigfootsploitation found-footage clusterfuck WILLOW CREEK to entertain me or give me any reason to continue living, I thought to myself, “Say, I wonder if the Eduardo Sanchez version is better?”
Now I don’t want to shock you so you should probably find somewhere to sit down if you’ve got a weak heart or something, or call a buddy to stand by you and catch you if you fall down in a dead faint while you read this, but it turns out EXISTS is not a significant improvement on WILLOW CREEK. But I maintain it wasn’t complete folly to entertain the possibility that it might have been. OK, Eduardo Sanchez (co-director of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) does not exactly have the best track record in the world, but I still think BLAIR WITCH is sporadically intense, and although I hear SEVENTH MOON is basically unwatchable due to its complete visual incomprehensibility, I actually really loved his LOVELY MOLLY from 2012. That one was a tense, quiet, and genuinely creepy little gem with a tremendously good performance from its then-and-unfortunately-still-unknown leading actress (Jesus Christ, can we get Larry Fessenden or someone to give this chick another good role? The name is Gretchen Lodge. Get on this, world). I kinda loved it. And most people didn’t even like that one. So when I say that EXISTS represents a significant step back for Sanchez, you best believe I mean it.
It is, at least, a terrible movie in a different and maybe more palatable way than WILLOW CREEK, for a genre fan, anyway. It’s probably a worse movie overall, and certainly lacks even the modest ambition of its 2013 cousin, but the ways in which it is bad (terrible, annoying actors doing idiotic things while being picked off one-by-one by a mostly unseen monster shot on repellently ugly hand-held video) are more familiar to the genre hound and easier to overlook, while the one thing it gets rights (eventually delivering some acceptable Sasquatch mayhem) offers at least some scant reason to forgive its other failings, at least for the kind of person who would intentionally watch two found-footage Sasquatch films in one week.
Of course, even for that kind of person --the worst kind of person, obviously-- this is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. Not that it really matters a whole lot, but holy shit, this has to be some of the very worst writing and acting I’ve seen in a modern horror movie. Usually a baseline level competence in these not-especially-important-to-the-horror-genre areas is something you can count on in even the lowest-rent horror movies these days, and especially in the found footage genre where “realism” usually means at least generally believable ad-libbed mumbling. Not so here. I suppose it could be intentionally trying to throw back to the broad, obnoxious teenage performances in 80’s slashers (though not a lot about this movie seems especially intentional), but it’s rather startling in its crappiness. It might even be refreshingly terrible like THE PYRAMID if it were more entertaining, or even a little entertaining. But of course, like all found footage films it can’t just get to the good stuff, it has to putter around and waste time and have people play stupid pranks on each other and make sure we don’t get to see bigfoot, because why would you want to actually see bigfoot, in a bigfoot movie. And what would a found footage film be without minutes on end of visually incomprehensible footage of absolutely nothing?
Of course it goes without saying that much of the movie is devoted to finding preposterous reasons why someone is filming this (and much of the time, it’s still apparent that no one could feasibly be doing so), but thanks to the acting and the general ridiculousness of the situation, everything is already so phony it hardly makes any difference. If that’s really gonna be what ruins the illusion of gritty realism for you in this movie about a killer bigfoot... I don’t know what to tell ya. I guess the backstory here is you’ve got five irritating people who are planning to be youtube BMX stars, so it makes perfect sense that everyone is constantly filming every single moment, no matter how inane, while they sit around an isolated woodland cabin arguing. And eventually a very pissed-off bigfoot comes calling with the intention of making his presence gradually known.
Realism isn’t much of a concern at this point, but the labored explanation of why this is (theoretically) being so thoroughly documented by several cameras, at all times, it is definitely a time-wasting irritation which results in almost no meaningful payoff. Sanchez, of course, made his name originating the genre, but there’s no evidence here that he has spent any time since BLAIR WITCH thinking about the medium and what to do with it. If anything, this seems vastly more stilted and more unwilling to push the gimmick than BLAIR WITCH was, not to mention dozens of movies that subsequently imitated it. Though in fairness, EXIST’s one or two effective sequences do at least utilize the moment-by-moment breathlessness of the first-person POV to their advantage, though I still remain unconvinced that it was necessary (or beneficial) to stage these sequences --not to mention the whole movie-- entirely as a fixed-perspective POV to capture the same middling bit of interest.
That said, towards the three-quarters mark (of a very brief 80 minute runtime) the film does perk up and offer a few items of interest, which is something which can definitively not be claimed about WILLOW CREEK. EXISTS is a stupid movie all the way through, but while much of it uses that stupidity for evil (long boring scenes of ill-defined stereotypes shouting at each other) the end uses it for good (the reveal of a secret bigfoot burial ground with upended trees as graves, a bigfoot-vs-trailer fight where we even get a look at the ape-man of the hour). I'm pro-stupidity in that context. If it doesn’t ever exactly get good, at least it gets energetic, and eventually we do get at least a few good looks at bigfoot himself, occasionally even while he’s doing something cool. Which ought to be the sort of thing we could comfortably take for granted in a film this lowbrow, but as we’re increasingly learning in the found footage age, there are definitely filmmakers out there with pure darkness where their souls should be, who are completely willing and apparently legally able to put out entire films which deliver literally no goods whatsoever. Sanchez, at least, is not among them, or at least not this go-round. He delivers a small but non-zero amount of goods, eventually. Thank goodness for small favors.
Anyway, EXISTS is a piece of shit, but then again, who’s the bigger piece of shit, the found footage bigfoot movie or the piece of shit who watched two movies that fit such a dismal label in a single week? At some point you gotta take some personal responsibility here. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who double-dipped; actor Brian Steele, who plays Sasquatch under a pretty dodgy mask, also played Sasquatch in Harry and the Hendersons (the TV series, not the movie, so I don’t know if he ever met John Lithgow), so he of all people should have known better. I guess there are worse things to be typecast as, though. He’s a guy with no less than seven roles in various unrelated movies where he’s credited as “Creature,” (including roles in HELLBOY I-II, LADY IN THE WATER and PREDATORS) so we can confirm there was at least one genuine American hero on set when they made EXISTS. Future filmmakers exploring the possibility of Bigfoot films in the future, take note: Brian “Creatureboy” Steele deserves better than this. Let’s focus on getting some footage which would be worth finding next time.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
The Legend Is Real. So Is The Terror.
I mean, the movie exists, I can confirm that.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Bigfootsploitation, Found Footage
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Sanchez might just barely count due to his lasting influence with BLAIR WITCH, though “beloved” seems pretty strong.
None, though we do see a girl take her top off from behind, and see our male cameraman/protagonist strip bare and jump in a lake (also from behind)
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
FOUND FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK?
Yes, camera guy pervs out on his friends getting freaky in the woods
MORAL OF THE STORY
You can probably escape from rampaging hairy bipeds better if you don’t try and film the whole thing, just a suggestion guys.