What is it about Bigfoot that so challenges horror directors? If you want to tackle sasquatch, it seems like you're either Willow Creek or Boggy Creek.
With all due respects to one-third of The Blair Witch Project’s creative team, Eduardo Sanchez’s Exists is basically a feature-length “Messin’ with Sasquatch” ad with no punchline. I say one-third because Gregg Hale, one of the original producers of Blair Witch, also worked on Exists. This movie is primarily found-footage and creature feature, but it dabbles in survival horror. It’s also the exact opposite of The Blair Witch Project, Sanchez and Hale’s earlier, superior film.
I hate to come down hard on anyone from TBWP. It’s cliched bullshi* to say any film “defined a generation,” but how else do you explain the combined popularity and effect of Blair Witch? I can still remember the first ads I saw for Curse of the Blair Witch on the SciFi (SyFy doesn’t count; eat it, marketing people) Channel in 1999. I remember the clunky sound effects Internet Explorer made as I searched Blair Witch’s original website. I remember excitedly asking my best friend what happened in the ending when I found out he’d seen it. Say what you want about that film, it’s the film world’s version of The Twilight Zone or Miami Vice: a product whose ridiculous staying power defies its dated style. If I want to be really pretentious (and who’s stopping me), I’d say that Blair Witch only seems dated because it was the first of its kind. But that would be to slight the brilliant Last Broadcast, a movie that even I’ll admit out-duels Blair Witch by doing more innovative things with found footage a year before Sanchez and Myrick premiered their classic.
I’m a shameless fanboy. That is all.
Exists is Eduardo Sanchez’s 2014 found-footage scare-fest about a group of college students who take a weekend jaunt to a cabin in the woods (another film whose influence overshadows this movie). Only, these college students hit a Bigfoot— pretty obviously— on the way there. This is mistake #1. Within the first ten minutes, the antagonist’s motivation is clearly established— never a good idea for a horror film— and the protagonists have all the evidence they need of this fact. One of them even rewinds the video cam footage to see, clearly, the Bigfoot they bumper-hunt a few seconds after it happens. This fact spoils the movie. If you know the heroes are guilty, the hideous mystery of any monster movie— why are we being attacked? what’s the villain’s horrible motivation?—is answered. This is also a sign of how profoundly fortunate TBWP was. I don’t recall much about working my dad’s mid-90s video cam, but I don’t think it had resolution as high-pixel or easily accessible as whatever camera the hero uses here. Imagine Blair Witch with cameras that could easily rewind and review the day’s footage. Love or hate that film, it would have hurt the final product.
The Geico caveman got work.
Most of Exists is standard horror movie fare. There’s some early silliness, hanky-panky, and young people tension. The locale is creepy and isolated, and the college students are individuals of easy virtue. Yadda yadda. If you want proof of TBWP’s virtue— and of its many happy accidents and their judicious editing— just look at the setup of Exists. Bigfoot first shows herself thirty minutes in, angry about the hit-and-run. There are cameras everywhere to record this, effectively destroying the uncertain tension that made TBWP so scary. On a side note, these characters use “bro” as often as “f*ck” was used in Blair Witch. I never thought I’d miss profanity, or Gen-Xers, so badly.
Exists deserves credit for a few genuinely tense moments. Given how early this movie shows its monster, it’s surprising there’s any tension at all. There’s an genuinely frightening sequence where Bigfoot tries to break into the cabin. Before this, however, is mistake #2, and Jack Links Beef Jerky moment #1, where Bigfoot throws one character's bike onto the cabin’s porch from 100 yards out. I laughed out loud, because throwing a bike will never be serious. The remaining characters repair to the cellar, where a few rounds of buckshot send BF scurrying.
What follows is an escape that would make the Mystery Machine crew scratch their heads, then holler suggestions like the audience at a crappy horror movie. The remaining heroes (thrown bike guy is out of the picture, and another character gets manhandled by Bigfoot) try to hike for safety— Bigfoot impaled their SUV with a car, which is a gag the Jack Links Beef Jerky people should totally capitalize on— to no avail. Also, it turns out bike-guy is alive, and Bigfoot had dragged him back to the Bigfoot hole. If nothing else came from this film, I got to type “bigfoot hole,” which is hilarious. It’s also at this point that I simply have to mention that in at least one culture’s ape-cryptid folkore— Sherpa stories surrounding the Yeti— abductions usually entail trysts. So, for all we know, Bigfoot and bike-guy were a guitar with foot pedals away from an enjoyable evening.
Battle of Endor POV.
Bike-guy is rescued from the Bigfoot-hole (that phrase will always be funny), and the remaining survivors head for safety. They don’t make it, of course, but there’s a corny-yet-effective ending where the last girl, er, guy faces down Bigfoot with a twelve-gauge, but refuses to kill her. Turns out, the Bigfoot hit in the first few minutes was the other Bigfoot’s child. Given the comic nature of the rest of this film, this comes as a sadly serious surprise, but the ending— in which Mama Bigfoot accepts the last guy’s offer of peace, then walks away— at least makes sense.
Worth the Money? Sadly, no. Snark aside, Sanchez's strengths showed better in Blair Witch. In the 90s, I’d say “wait till this movie comes on tv.” Now, I’ll just suggest you re-watch Blair Witch, and appreciate that film’s fortunate confluence of moment and craftsmanship.