Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: Exists (2014)

[Watch out for spoilers!]

Exists is the second found-footage-styled Big Foot movie of 2014, following the amusing and quirky Willow Creek.

Delightfully, this Eduardo Sanchez horror film is quite different in tone and pacing from its immediate predecessor, and moves quickly into fresh, nightmarish terrain.

In horror short hand, Exists is a bit like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) re-done as a Big Foot film: Thoughtless youngsters commit an unforgivable transgression; thoughtless youngsters get savagely attacked and massacred in hair-raising, highly suspenseful fashion.

Sanchez remains a genre director worth following (and lauding), not merely because of his ground-breaking work on The Blair Witch Project (1999), but because of his noteworthy career in the genre since then, which includes the intriguing Altered (2006), the harrowing Seventh Moon (2008), and the deeply disturbing Lovely Molly (2012), all highly underrated efforts.

At this point, Sanchez must fully realize that he will forever be associated with The Blair Witch Project and the found footage style, and so Exists plays on our expectations, offering a very different take on the format. Where The Blair Witch Project intentionally tread into deep ambiguities about reality, wondered about the “filter” of the camera lens, and never depicted its titular monster on screen, Exists goes whole hog in the opposite direction. It lands its (impressive) Big Foot on screen many times -- though often from a great distance -- and reveals the (angry) creature to be incredibly fast, strong, and savage. 

Accordingly, there are moments in Exists of extreme tension as the monster moves faster and with more determination than its terrified, shell-shocked human prey. If you grew up on the slow-motion Big Foot of The Six Million Dollar Man (1974 – 1978) or Bigfoot and Wild Boy (1977), the fast-moving, hard-charging Big Foot of Exists will change your perception of the hulking, lumbering cryptid permanently.

Exists is scary, fast-paced and nasty in all the ways a dedicated horror movie fan would appreciate, even though it moves in a more straight-forward or conventional fashion than either The Blair Witch Project of Lovely Molly did. Despite the crowd-pleasing nature of the enterprise, the film succeeds largely because Sanchez expertly stages a series of relentless, highly-destructive set pieces, and, at the same time, pays homage to the Big Foot legend and its film history.

Exists is a roller-coaster through and through, but its final moments -- a tense, unpredictable encounter between hunter and prey -- elevate the material, and make one wonder about the differences and similarities between man and beast.

“Years ago, my uncle saw something out here…”

Brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn) drive out to rural Texas with their friends Todd (Roger Edwards), Dora (Dora Madison Burge) and Liz (Denise Williamson).

Along the way to a cabin -- traveling the highway at night -- their car strikes something on the road. The youngsters find blood on the hood of the dented car, but no body.

The group proceeds to the cabin belonging to Brian and Matt’s uncle, which was long ago abandoned and to which he has forbidden them access.

There, on the first night in the woods, the group is relentlessly attacked by a creature that appears to be Big Foot.

The next morning, the group finds their car destroyed, and Matt decides to bike out of the woods for help, hoping to find a place with cell phone reception so he can telephone 911. 

Meanwhile, the others prepare for another sustained attack by Big Foot, but they have no concept of the lengths the creature will go to break into the cabin and murder them all…

“We’ll be okay as long as we don’t provoke it.”

In some ways, Exists serves as a loose adaptation of long-standing Big Foot lore.

For instance, in 1924 a group of (armed) miners working near Mount St. Helens allegedly came under siege from Big Foot, who attacked their cabin and threw boulders at it. The incident was recounted on an episode of In Search Of in 1976. In very broad strokes, Exists showcases a similar kind of event: a siege upon a cabin in the woods, and a Big Foot smart enough to lob heavy rocks -- from a long distance -- at its armed enemies.

To my utter joy -- and I must assume it was intentional, -- Exists also recreates the most famous and effective scare from Charles B. Pierce Legend of Boggy Creek (1972). There, the Fouke Monster, a kind of Big Foot variant, unexpectedly reached inside a cabin, terrifying those inside with its hairy forearm and hand.  Here, Big Foot similarly breaks in through a bed room window and lifts a girl right up off her feet, shaking her violently.

These touches suggest that writer Jamie Nash and director Sanchez are both familiar with Big Foot history, cinematic and other-wise. Indeed, the film opens with several title cards about Big Foot sightings, noting that the creature is believed to be gentle and timid…unless provoked. 

However, that word -- provoked -- is the crux of the film.

The young characters in the drama don’t realize what they have done to harm Big Foot until it is far too late for them to change course. Indeed, from before the time they arrive in the woods, the teens are marked for death; their destiny set.

And, of course, the creature is provoked in a way that any human being -- but especially a parent -- would immediately recognize and understand. The beast subsequently embarks on a killing spree of remarkable intensity and duration. Yet the film’s final, remarkable moments suggest that both blind rage and compassion are not the exclusive province of the human race.

Big Foot -- a distant biological cousin? -- can understand and interpret the human signs of guilt and shame, and respond to them accordingly, perhaps, the film intimates. For me, this final grace note in Exists is an acknowledgment that neither man (who is capable of remorse), nor Big Foot (who can, apparently, recognize it…) is a mere animal without the power to consider and weigh his actions.

Several attack scenes from Exists linger in the memory, but at least three are superbly wrought. 

One such sequence involves a teen, Matt (Davis) attempting to escape the woods on a bicycle so he can place a phone call. He bikes for some distance, until he gets cell reception, and then is met, finally, with Bigfoot. Matt begins peddling away as fast as his bike can carry him. Shockingly, Big Foot pursues, and Sanchez’s camera pinpoints the beast racing through the woods on a parallel path, rapidly cutting down the distance between the pursuer and the pursued. The scene is extremely tense, and ends with a shock that scared my wife right off of our sofa.

Another impressive sequence occurs the night after the final cabin siege. One of the survivors, Todd (Roger Edwards) is armed with a shot-gun and has wounded the creature. Night has fallen, and the surviving youngsters have no shelter. But Todd begins firing randomly into the dark, trying to kill Big Foot. Demonstrating the creature’s remarkable intelligence, it brandishes a “weapon” of its own. It throws watermelon-sized rocks at Todd, all while hidden from view.

Finally, the scene at an abandoned camper/trailer is the film’s coup de grace (and the instance where no fewer than three characters meet their fate…).

Again, Big Foot demonstrates intelligence and resilience in his attacks, and we have rarely seen such big, traumatic action presented so well, so crisply in the found-footage genre.  Sanchez doesn’t cheat any of the action with a wobbly camera, and some of his compositions are downright awe-inspiring, particularly a low-angle shot of Big Foot jumping down onto the overturned camper’s open doorway.

One glory of the found-footage genre -- and upgrade, perhaps, from third-person horror -- is that no one need survive an attack like the ones featured throughout Exists. Instead, only the camera must remain intact so that the footage can be viewed. 

But Exists earned my admiration because it doesn’t avail itself of the easy opportunity to kill every last character, and instead provides an ending that contextualizes the events of the film in terms of the creature’s behavior, from start to finish. 

Like many of us, the creature responds initially with rage but once that rage is exorcised, reverts to its true, peaceful nature.

As I noted above, the film’s resolution suggests that Big Foot is a “monster” that shares many traits in common with mankind.  Bigfoot “exists,” perhaps, but so does something else: the human ability to seek forgiveness, even in the most terrifying circumstances imaginable.

1 comment:

  1. The Bigfoot craze is now in full force with the release of a number of Sasquatch themed movies over the past year. I don't see how any of them could be much better than "Exists".

    There is a lot of bigfoot in this and that is a good thing. When the bigfoot is chasing one of the kids on his bike, it's simultaneously funny and scary. And the attack in the cabin is one of the more visceral and terrifying encounters of recent memory. There is also a twist ending to this that I really enjoyed.


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