The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Film Review: 'Exists'

By Richard Whittaker, March 10, 2014, 11:48am, SXSW

The genius of the The Blair Witch Project was it was all tell, no show. When director Eduardo Sanchez returns to the found footage genre for Exists, the beast is right in the camera’s lens.

Important side point: Sanchez’s revolutionary breakout debut didn’t intend to keep the witch hidden, but a combination of the A/V technology available at the time and the handheld, POV, improv’d shoot meant she stayed perpetually in the shadows. Not so for the Big Foot of Exists. As the producers at Friday night’s world premiere explained, the suit was built before the film was even close to production: Because without a shambling, powerful, bestial but ultimately convincing monster, the film could never happen, never work.

Clearly inspired by drive-in classic The Legend of Boggy Creek, retelling the story of Arkansas’ own Sasquatch relative, Sanchez relocates the action to Central Texas, as five friends go to an abandoned cabin amid the Bastrop pines for a weekend of off-road, off-the-map fun. To justify why all their actions would be caught on camera for the found-footage shtick, two of the guys (Samuel Davis and Roger Edwards) are mountain bikers, so their resident mad tinkerer Brian (Chris Osborn) has covered every angle with GoPros so he can catch sick stunts for YouTube, bro. What he hasn't told everyone else is that he's also a skunk ape obsessive, and looking to get some footage of the elusive beast. Careful what you wish for, dude.

There will, of course, be some people who see echoes of Blair Witch here: But that’s because it created a whole new dialect of cinema, so specific and recognizable, that it’s almost impossible to not see resonance in any modern POV film (arguably, there's more of his bike-mounted segment for found footage anthology V/H/S/2 in here). Moreover, Sanchez arguably sets himself up to fail narratively by taking another paranormal camping trip. Yet somehow he evades all those bear traps, returning tension and pathos to the monster movie.

The reality is that, like his earlier films Seventh Moon and Lovely Molly, he perfects an air of imminent dread and foreboding. And, like Blair Witch, he uses the found footage approach to create intimacy with the characters, especially Brian. But the real surprise is the beast itself. Go-to monster suit guy Brian Steele brings more than just malice and random acts of carnage to the forest-dwelling creature. This is a living, breathing, feeling animal, and Sanchez adds an extra layer of tragedy through the fire-blackened trees of what was once its verdant home.


Midnighters, World Premiere
Monday, March 10, 11:59pm, Alamo Ritz
Audience award screening: Saturday, March 15, 11:59pm, Alamo Ritz

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