It’s important to lay biases plain in front of your audience, and in that spirit I want to say right now that I did not have high hopes going into Exists. I don’t like Eduardo Sánchez as a director. Altered was an emotionally inept and embarrassing piece of work, I think The Blair Witch Project is a bad and bafflingly praised example of a sub-genre (found footage horror) that I actually love very much, and Exists happens to be in my favorite sub-genre of that sub-genre: the Bigfoot found footage movie. It’s not that I wasn’t willing to give it a shot – Sánchez’s Lovely Molly is one of the more accomplished horror films of recent years (thanks in no small part to Gretchen Lodge giving one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a genre film), and the integration of found footage into its larger, more traditional narrative worked perfectly, after all – just that I was wary. If he repeated the mistakes of The Blair Witch project, I’d end up slogging through another do-nothing handi-cam disaster, and I see enough of those disasters as is. Luckily for me, Exists didn’t make those same mistakes; unluckily, it made entirely new ones.
Let me get this out early: Exists is incompetent, amateurish, and bafflingly put together. It seems more like the work of a film student who had access to a moderately priced camera than that of a director who has been working for over a decade. I don’t understand how someone could make this movie and think it worked on any level. It’s not just bad; a lot of movies are bad, but this is a certain kind of pathetic. It’s like Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, a work by someone who is ostensibly a seasoned director that appears to be barely passable as the first edit of the lowest quality soft-core pornography. There’s an assumption I had that working on a number of films will naturally give a director the ability to make movies that at least appear to be made by professionals. The more films like these I watch, the less I believe that to be true.
At the core of it, I just don’t understand what reasoning Sánchez had for making this film. There’s no passion to its messy and amateurish construction, but the seemingly obvious answer – money- doesn’t make sense either. He explicitly seems to be eschewing the tropes and familiarity of The Blair Witch Project, to the degree that he shoots off in an entirely different direction of failure. About ten minutes into the film, we see Bigfoot; he’s there, clear as day, in the frozen shot of a camera viewfinder. There is no ambiguity or tension involved, no sense of mystery, and no path to discovery. I get not wanting to repeat yourself, but there’s a rhythm to this sort of thing. There has to be some sort of escalation and evolution to the horror. When we see the monster so early (and so often), the tension of the limited perspective (the main strength of found footage) is removed, and we’re left with a poorly-shot creature feature. It’s here that the main problem lies: Sánchez simply doesn’t understand why he is using found footage. He doesn’t know how the technique works, or what it means.
The Bigfoot the protagonists (who are actually more annoying than the protagonists of The Blair Witch Project, something I didn’t know was possible) find is laughable, a ridiculous and absurd version of an iconic and frightening monster. It comes to harass them early and often, never really leaving for long enough to create an ebb and flow. The story is easy enough – Bigfoot comes, Bigfoot kills, kids run, kids get killed – but it all feels so lacking in danger or fear. I guess it’s supposed to be frightening purely on its face, a visceral reaction to the presence and being, but again this is a mistake. A Bigfoot movie has to operate on atmosphere and teasing; it has to walk the fine line between showing too much and telling too much. This is why Bigfoot is suited so well to found-footage horror, a genre that thrives on the tension between seen and unseen, the fear of the limits of understanding and control. Glimpses of Bigfoot are scary, but the complete image is more humorous than terrifying. Again, Sánchez fails to understand his goals or how to accomplish them; he defeats the purpose of making the film by virtue of his filmmaking.
If it’s my bias that sees this incredible misuse of theme, style, tone, and story, then so be it. It’s a complete mess, a childish take on material that it really shouldn’t be hard to do well. All three Bigfoot found footage movies that have been released this year – and yes, there have been that many, and I’m probably missing a few that went direct to video that haven’t been tagged properly yet on IMDb – misunderstood how to accomplish their goals. Even the best of them, Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek, was little more than generic (besides its masterful single take), grasping at the wrong straws and never finding a footing with which to express the true horror of the subject. Exists isn’t even able to call its incompetence exceptional, merely depressing and exhausting. Sadly, it appears Lovely Molly (and, with it, quality filmmaking) was merely an aberration in the career of a frustratingly mediocre (and sometimes sub-mediocre) director.
Directed by Eduardo Sánchez; written by Jamie Nash; starring Dora Madison Burge, Brian Steele, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Roger Edwards, Chris Osborn, and Jeff Schwan; 86 minutes.
Exists is currently available for rental on Amazon Instant.