October 24, 2014
Chris Osborn as Brian
Samuel Davis as Todd
Denise Williamson as Elizabeth
Dora Madison Burge as Dora
Roger Edwards as Matt
Exists is a Bigfoot movie. Or if you prefer, a Sasquatch movie. Or maybe we can go with Hairy Bill (one of the Bigfoot nicknames in the great state of Texas, where the film was shot and the story takes place). Which one is politically correct? Enquiring beasts want to know!
Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Projectfame is treading some similar territory with his new horror film. We’ve got found footage, a heavily wooded area which gets our characters semi-lost and several very exciting and scary sequences (though none of it can top The Blair Witch Project).
I do sometimes like films which get right to the point, and Exists does so. Within five minutes, the first sighting of our hairy friend takes place as our hapless group’s car speeds down some rural road (borrowing a line from Twister, “What is this, ‘Bob’s Road’?”) in the middle of the night. They’re all half drunk, half stoned or half asleep. At any rate, their fast-moving vehicle hitssomething. Was it a deer? A bear? Perhaps some sort of missing link originally immortalized in the Patterson film of 1967? We shall soon see. And this encounter between beast and SUV sets the story in motion.
Like so many of you, I’ve grown tired of the “found footage” scary movie phenomenon. Admittedly, it all began back in 1999 with the very director of Exists and his chum Daniel Myrick, so we need to give credit where credit is due.
Since then, there have been great “found footage” films (Paranormal Activity), some relatively okay ones (Cloverfield) and some downright dreadful ones (it pains me to say this, but Romero’s Diary of the Dead was atrocious).
And I was a little surprised when Exists began, and we were immediately thrust into that first person vantage point again, whether we wanted to be or not. I am reminded of Rec 3, and it’s usage of the “found footage” idea, which is then scrapped about twenty minutes in, in favor of a more traditional way to tell the story. It’s not to say that Exists should have taken such a direction, as much of the filming works and the various convenient camera placements actually make sense, but I can no longer tolerate the “I will keep filming despite the fact that the hairy monster, hungry ghoul or witch with the hypnotic eyes is attacking my friends and eating my dog”… or whatever the scenario may be. Let’s get real (and that’s what we all want, right? Reality shows ruling the airwaves!). Once that camera is down for the count, why on earth would it ever be picked up again? Certainly back in the day, when Heather Donahue continued to film, even in light of Josh’s disappearance and the wild goings-on in the woods outside Burkittsville, we sort of bought that she would keep that camera firmly in hand. It was rented equipment, and seeing the awful horrors – through the lens of the camera – kept our film students at a perceived safe distance.
As an audience, we just can’t be expected to take that big leap of “willing suspension of disbelief” anymore. Enough already.
That being said, the film is actually quite scary! There’s some powerful suspense, some really jarring “boo” moments, and a monster who is pretty darn creepy. Sanchez reveals the creature slowly, and when we finally see some close-up details, there’s some marvelous make-up work (kudos to Mike Elizalde for the creature design) to admire. There’s some humanity in that furry face, and that makes for some sympathy on the creature’s end, very important as the film progresses.
There are no holes in the performances, but as is usual in a film of this type, they’re not given much to do in the script, aside from having to react to the events around them. And they’re all good, particularly our stoner lead, Brian (Chris Osborn). He’s obsessed with capturing some footage of our shoe-size-20-friend, and so his set-up of all the cameras in and around the cabin works. And although we really like Brian, there’s so very little in the way of character intros, it was hard to truly feel for him or the others in the group.
See, any good scary movie, whether you connect with the characters or not, will push buttons in the right way, and make you tense and jump and scream and giggle. That’s kind of the case here. They’re all nice folks portrayed by good actors, but if you were to look at them all a line-up, it’d be hard to tell them apart (aside from obvious physical characteristics). As “people”, they’re drawn very simply. But then again, that’s not necessarily what the horror fans are there for. They just want to be scared enough to pee their pants and then laugh about it afterward over a beer at the nearest tavern.
But I still have to whole-heartedly recommend this film. Some of the sequences (I’ll only mention them by name, but will provide no spoilers), especially the “bike” chase are totally amazing! The amount of tension is almost too much to bear, and you know exactly where and how the scene is going to end. And when it does, you’re so jazzed by the screaming around you and from inside of you, that the obvious payoff doesn’t matter much. And then there’s the “trailer” scene. Beautifully shot and edited. It is one great big “ouch” to watch, and the return of the monster at the end of the sequence is a genuine, “I just screamed out loud and the person next to me was irritated” moment. For real, there’s some good stuff here if you’re looking to be scared!
More than once, I found myself putting my hands over my face and peeking through my parted fingers. Yes, I am a 40 year old man, and I still do that. Don’t judge me.
So if that promise of terror doesn’t make you want to see this, then you’re going to horror films for the wrong reason. Yes, it would be nice to identify and root a little more for the characters being chased, terrorized and killed on the screen, but you can’t have it all.
Great big applause for the sound designer (Matt Davies) on this film. The various Bigfoot squeals, snorts, growls and breathing are remarkable and add some very intense detail to the already jumpy proceedings. The “Bigfoot-speak” on display here is totally icky-pants.
As is, Exists exists to push those afore-mentioned fear buttons. And it does it with panache. But it doesn’t do much else.
I just like a little caviar with my Miracle-Whip sandwiches. Does that make sense?
Keep the scares, atmosphere, effects and suspense, but give me some folks who I will care deeply for. Think of your film’s possibilities if I were absolutely and totally in love with these kids before Bigfoot tries to squash (squatch?) them.
And finally, enjoy the fireworks. That is all.