Yes last year was the year of dueling Die Hard in the White House films; this year is the year of dueling found footage Bigfoot movies made by cult figures of the nineties (though as far as I know neither features a scene where Bigfoot castrates someone with his bare hands). I’ve yet to see Goldthwait’s film, Willow Creek but Eduardo Sanchez’s Exists, just picked up by Lionsgate, delivers a decent Sasquatch rampage.
The aughts were pretty quiet for Sanchez (notwithstanding his well regarded alien abduction film Altered) a director best known for The Blair Witch Project in the same way Don McLean is best known for American Pie. But the new decade has seen a surprising flurry of activity from the filmmaker; the independent Lovely Molly, a segment in V/H/S/2, an episode of the From Dusk Til Dawn TV series and now Exists. Exists is for most of it’s runtime an agreeable throwback, the type of horror film that uses lines like, “Your Uncle has a cabin all the way out here?” and “Black people don’t do things like this!” unironically.
Exists follows five friends who take a trip deep into the woods to the old abandoned cabin that their Uncle just doesn’t use any more for some reason. After incurring the wrath of the Sasquatch, the group’s number begins to drop precipitously. There are the usual problems with the genre, some staggeringly dumb decisions, horror stock types employed like it’s 1983 and the most egregious case of Dude, Put Down The Camera Syndrome, I’ve seen since Paranormal Activity 3. (Note to found footage filmmakers, simply having other characters remarking that it’s weird that the guy is still holding onto to his camera does not make it any less distracting). But it feels churlish to get too mad at Exists which delivers plenty of old school fun and directs a couple of its attacks with real energy and an agreeable sense of escalation. Anyone who sees Exists looking for a fun collection of Sasquatch attacks is going to walk away satisfied.
Which is perhaps part of why I’m disappointed, the film feels similar to Sanchez’s V/H/S/2 segment “A Ride in the Park” (Beyond the shared conviction that camera mounted bike helmets are the coolest thing ever) in that, though well choreographed, it ultimately feels lightweight. I hold The Blair Witch Project in extremely high regard (if you’ve read Son Of Danse Macabre you know in just how high regard) and perhaps while it’s unfair for me to expect Sanchez, or anyone for that matter, to recapture that particular bit of lightning in a bottle, it’s hard not to make the comparison when Sanchez himself keeps bringing it up. Let’s just say that “A Ride in the Park” isn’t the only former work that Sanchez is quoting. The film was shot in Bastrop (same place as Prince Avalanche, familiar to horror fans from All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) which was recently decimated by a wild fire. Sanchez makes fine use of the eerie landscape but the copious scenes of people running around the woods at night pointing prosumer cameras at things they can’t quite make out feels a bit hollow, as if Sanchez doesn’t understand that’s not what made The Blair Witch Project scary. The only time when the film totally falls flat is when it reaches for gravitas. The director of Exists, knows how to show you a good time but it’s hard to forget that he also once know how to deeply unnerve you.