Director: Eduardo Sanchez
Stars: Chris Osborn, Roger Edwards, Dora Madison Burge, Samuel Davis, Denise Williamson.
In 1999 Eduardo Sanchez virtually created the found footage genre with the low budget The Blair Witch Project, a horror film that has spurned many imitators in the decade since. Sanchez has since gone on to make more conventional horror films, but he briefly returned to the found footage genre for his A Ride In The Park segment in the horror anthology VHS/2 a couple of years ago. And now he returns to the genre with his latest low budget full length feature. Exists combines the generic found footage aesthetic to a creature feature and backwoods survival story, with surprisingly effective results for the most part.
In Exists a group of five friends head off for a cabin in the woods for a weekend of adventure and extreme activities, although fans of the genre will automatically know that no good will come of their trip into the forest. The cabin belongs to the uncle of siblings Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian Tolver (Chris Osborn), but it has been off limits to them for years for unexplained reasons.
Along for the ride are Matt’s girlfriend Dora (Dora Madison Burge, from tv series Friday Night Lights, etc), Todd (Roger Edwards) and his girlfriend Liz (Denise Williamson). The camera obsessed Brian is determined to record the weekend on his cameras.
On the way into the remote cabin their vehicle hits something big and hairy, but they can’t find anything so they assume it ran off into the woods. Brian also has another reason for visiting the cabin owned by his uncle. He wants to find proof of his uncle’s claims that he spotted the legendary Sasquatch prowling around the woods, so he sets up a series of cameras in the woods and the cabin. He hopes to make a Youtube video that will be “bigger than Alien Abduction.”
But he gets more than he bargained for when the Sasquatch soon comes hunting them. The weekend quickly turns into a fight for survival. We are told that there have been some 3000 sightings or encounters with bigfoot since 1967, but that the creature only becomes dangerous when provoked. The creature’s ferocious attacks are caught on all manner of cameras, which does lend the material a sense of immediacy. There is a small cast of characters, and they are all rather one dimensional and cardboard, making it hard for audiences to really identify with them or care about their fate. But somehow that doesn’t matter much here as there are some genuinely tense moments.
Exists is another of those horror films squarely aimed at a generation obsessed with documenting their every move on social media. As the group run and hide from the Sasquatch you want to yell at Brian to drop the camera and do something more useful in helping his friends defend themselves from the attacks.
Cinematographer John Rutland relies on the over use of unsettling and nausea inducing hand held cameras and GoPro cameras, which offers lots of point of view shots. This has become a tiresome cinematic device that has become a cliche in itself. Rutland and Sanchez also use plenty of natural lighting, which occasionally renders it hard to see what is happening.
Most horror films effectively deal in the fear of the unknown, and for a while Sanchez and his regular collaborator Jamie Nash effectively develop some suspense. He slowly reveals the creature with early quick glimpses as the figure moves through the woods, before allowing him to appear in full frightening fury for a tense climax. And the creature design from the WETA workshops is quite realistic. Sanchez also effectively develops an unsettling soundscape that makes the forest itself seem menacing.
Exists won the audience award at the recent SXSW festival in Texas, which suggests that audiences still haven’t tired of the found footage genre just yet even if we critics have.