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RUNNING TIME 102 minutes
• Audio commentary with Director Eduardo Sanchez and Writer Jamie Nash
• Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary)
• 21 Days in the Woods: Behind the Scenes of Exists
• Bringing Bigfoot to Life
Bigfoot murders camera-using idiots in the woods, presumably so he can take their delicious beef jerky.
Chris Osborn, Roger Edwards, Samuel Davis, Dora Madison Burge, Denise Williamson, Brian Steele
A camping trip becomes a blood-soaked nightmare as five friends are terrorized by a mysterious creature seeking vengeance.
If there’s one film-maker who has never really “caught on” with me, it’s Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez is obviously most famous for being the co-creator of The Blair Witch Project (really more co-writer as calling him or Daniel Myrick the director greatly understates how much of that movie rested on the shoulders of its three leads) and has gone on to eke out a little niche for himself in the straight-to-DVD horror genre. His films often get a lot of buzz but I’ve never really found the urge to watch any of them more than once.
Sanchez’s strength has always been in setting a mood. Movies like Blair Witch, Altered, and Lovely Molly have a feel to them that’s almost palpable and there’s a certain sense of panic to watching them, a feeling of foreboding and dread that emanates from each film. It was this skill that caused Blair Witch to capture the horror zeitgeist in 1999 (the fact that we’d had a nearly decade-long horror recession didn’t hurt, either) and it’s a skill that few directors really have.
Unfortunately Sanchez (and his frequent writing collaborator Jamie Nash) is lacking in imagination and though his movies have just the right feel, they’re all pretty dull. I want to like Altered, I want to like Lovely Molly, I want to like Seventh Moon, but they take their great premises and spooky atmosphere and waste them on unlikeable characters and dull plots. Bits of dark humor that would be welcome in another film-maker’s hands just come across as out of place and shrill, great build-ups are wasted on lackluster endings.
I just can’t ignore Eduardo Sanchez though, he has a lot of potential and the behind-the-scenes features of his movies always show an affable man who loves the genre and wants to tell interesting stories within it, he has a rapport with his actors and he comes up with ideas that make me want to like the movies he makes. I had heard a lot of good buzz going in (the most common compliment saying that this movie succeeds where Bobcat Goldthwait’s other found-footage bigfoot movie Willow Creek, which I have not yet seen, failed) so I was cautiously optimistic.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the usual “douchebags dicking around on the way to the place where they’re going to die” introduction was reduced to a quick montage set to somber music, evoking a sort of memorial video tone. Apparently this was not the original plan but Sanchez edited this introduction to what it currently is after the test audiences claimed they didn’t like the characters. Never say that test audiences don’t do you any favors.
After our opening montage, we can no longer put of meeting these dweebs so we kick things off as our protagonists’ SUV hits something in the road. They pull over but fail to locate the animal, when they look back on video footage of them playing a prank on one of the main characters a hairy figure can be seen walking near the car. How the driver didn’t see the giant hairy man walking next to the road is beyond me, so I assume he also hit Ed Harley’s son and Xtro on the way in.
As they all get back in the car, they get to the hunting cabin they’re staying at. The cabin belongs to the uncle of our two “I don’t see anyone better around here, do you” heroes Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborne). Their uncle saw something there years ago and has forbidden anyone from going to the cabin ever since. Naturally Brian stole the keys and so they took their friends and loved ones there because they are morons.
Midway through the second night, Bigfoot shows up and shit gets real very quickly. It’s pretty obvious what actually happened and that we have a Boggy Creek 2 situation on our hands but our protagonists are horror movie protagonists and are thus dangerously stupid. They send out one of the guys on a BMX bike to try and call the police, but when that goes predictably wrong they try to make a stand in the house.
I should mention that the set-up here is dangerously close to plagiarizing Evil Dead. You’ve got your cabin up in the woods (this time in Texas rather than Michigan) that our heroes are going to for fairly nebulous reasons, there’s a trap door in the floor leading to a creepy earthen-floored basement where the heroes find a shotgun that mysteriously works just fine, there’s your raging doofus who becomes the hero for want of anyone better, there’s even a bit in the deleted scenes of the protagonists driving over a rickety bridge that is their only means of egress.
Copying Evil Dead should not do any favors, but in this case it did. The siege of the cabin by Bigfoot is pretty tense and works well, partially because it uses the strengths of found footage to make the situation more chaotic and tense. The downside is, well, why the hell is this guy filming? That one question that rules over this whole genre has never been more appropriate than it is here. Okay he wants footage of Bigfoot, he gets a ton of it well before the midpoint of the movie, we don’t need further proof. There’s also something that feels like a running joke where every time the characters get separated and one person’s Gopro camera is taken with them, Bigfoot does something that ends up giving it back to Brian so he can edit it later.
At one point the characters come upon a tree, stripped completely of bark and shoved into the ground top first with its roots pointing to the sky. The camera lingers on it as if to tell the audience that this will mean something later, but it never does. It also never reveals why the uncle is so insistent that everyone stay out. Okay, there’s a Sasquatch here, but his violent behavior seems to stem from one specific incident perpetrated by the main characters. What did he see that’s so important?
It’s clear that Sanchez has picked up some tricks in the intervening years. He apes some of the stuff he did for his section in V/H/S 2 with go-pros mounted on helmets and BMX bikes, but it all works fairly dynamically. It’s usually easy to tell what’s going on and what little shaky cam there is feels deliberate to obscure our monster until later on.
Exists is dumb, extremely dumb, but it’s easy to forget about that as you’re watching it. It’s tense and legitimately chilling and the ultimate reveal that we’re basically watching a revenge movie in reverse is a pretty cool concept, even though it’s handled poorly. This is not a good movie, but Eduardo Sanchez works his magic again and makes it extremely watchable. It helps that he has probably the best looking cinematic sasquatch yet (yes, even better than the one from Abominable) which was designed by Weta workship and made by US special effects house Spectral Motion, and with veteran man-in-suit actor Brian Steele underneath.
Exists is probably Eduardo Sanchez’s best movie to date and likely the most not-terrible bigfoot horror movie. Does that mean that it’s a particularly good movie? No, not really, but it’s not a waste of your time.
The special features are pretty good here. None of the deleted scenes are anything special and Sanchez and Nash’s commentary isn’t particularly special but there are 3 behind-the-scenes featurettes that cover a lot of what went into making this movie, and you can tell it was a labor of love as well as a genuine joy to make. My favorite bits were watching the set designer smash shit up to make it look like a sasquatch had wrecked a car and sieged a house. There’s a short feature on the way in which the film’s sasquatch was brought to life. It’s a really interesting look into practical special effects that are very easy to take for granted. In addition, the movie comes with an Ultraviolet claim code if you’re into that kind of thing.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars