It must be rough to be Eduardo Sánchez. The co-director (with Daniel Myrick) of watershed terrorizer The Blair Witch Project hasn’t had a hit of that tectonic magnitude ever since, even as the found-footage genre that he practically created from scratch has proved to be as resilient, cheap to produce, and popular as ramen noodles. There were, of course, precursors to Blair Witch: Ruggero Deodato’s oft-cited goregasm Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Patrick Duncan’s excellent though little-seen Vietnam war flick 84 Charlie MoPic (1989) are two of the best, but Sánchez and Myrick’s savvy, slow-burn Witch – which grossed upward of $248 million worldwide and cost an estimated $20-$25,000 to shoot – is a genuine landmark in film history.
With Exists, Sánchez finally returns to the found-footage genre, and the forest, and the shaky-cam, but focuses (albeit rarely with the camera) on East Texas’ many rumored sightings of the cryptozoological anomaly colloquially known as Bigfoot. East Texas being, well, East Texas, there’s been little if any durable proof of such a creature, but oodles of yarning and hearsay stretching more than a century back. There’s something in the woods all right, but it’s more likely hallucinogenic fumes from a meth lab than the missing link. Still, as a starting point for a GoPro-crazed horror movie, it’s as good as any place to start, and actually gets the fear across in its final half-hour.
Shot in and around Bastrop State Park and at Spiderwood Studios, Exists corrals the usual assortment of hard-partying, mixed-gender victims-to-be in a deserted cabin out in the Big Thicket and lets nature have its skull-thumping way. Extreme sports enthusiasts all, the quintet, led by Chris Osborn’s Brian and shot on GoPro microcams by multiple characters (the product placement and shout-outs alone may well be the real horror on display here), the only surprising thing about Exists is that while it takes its own sweet time getting to the good (i.e., monster-involved) parts, once it does it’s a perfectly serviceable Friday-night, teen-date movie.
The creature’s big reveal is masterfully handled and a final revelation is exceptionally memorable, but the characters, unsurprisingly, remain interchangeable with those of any number of other teens-in-peril pics. Any sense of eerie atmosphere is obviously negated by the anti-quality of the “found footage” and suspense is sporadic and ultimately negligible, given the nature of the production. I suppose the genuinely good news is that it’s not another Paranormal Activity outing, but there should be more of a reason for Exists to exist than that. On the other hand, when the film had its world premiere at SXSW Film, it was voted the Audience Award winner in the Midnighter section.
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