Spooky Movie Festival 2014: “Exists” reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 10, 2014 in , / No Comments


Wherever this resurgence of interest in the Bigfoot legend spawned from, it seems to be working in favor of found-footage horror films. Last year, it was Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Willow Creek”, a suspenseful, surprisingly charming slow-burn that followed a young couple into the titular Pacific Northwest wilderness in hopes of capturing the beast on video.

While of the same genus, Eduardo Sánchez’s “Exists” is a different animal. Revisiting the style that set a precedent for ultra-low budget horror movies at the dawn of new millennium with his minimalist blood-curdler “The Blair Witch Project”, the director aims to leave substantially less to the imagination this time around. And it could be his best flick yet.

122945_galFive friends venture out into the east Texas woods for a few days of partying at a cabin that belongs to the uncle of oddball camera-enthusiast Brian (Chris Osborn). The other four twenty-somethings seem to be in it strictly for a good time, but Brian, who mounts a network of GoPro cameras throughout the expanse of forest surrounding the cabin, is more interested in getting a glimpse of the Big Guy (and occasionally his buddies getting lucky).

Brian also has a pretty big secret: no one knows they’re out there. This includes his uncle, who hasn’t returned to the secluded property since an apparent encounter with the furry cryptid.

The film, which was actually shot prior to “Willow Creek”, offers quite a bit more than just blurry monster sightings and some rustling sounds in the woods; after the group finds their truck bashed to pieces, leaving them stranded with no cell phone reception or GPS, distant shrieks from the mysterious forest-dweller (a 6′ 7″ Brian Steele) become a full-on assault on the cabin. Perhaps it has something to do with the blood on their front bumper from an unresolved incident they had on the way in?

When Brian’s brother Matt (Samuel Davis) bolts for help on a bicycle, “Exists” becomes fast-paced and unnerving: Sánchez takes plenty of liberties with the found-footage design in order to sew together a more engaging and cohesive narrative than most of its type are usually able to offer, and the pay-off can be measured in both goosebumps and jump-scares. An entrancing score by Nima Fakhrara (“The Signal”) helps draw us into the escalating nightmare, which unfurls with relentless tension as the struggle for survival grows more dire. “Harry and the Hendersons” this is not.

Horror audiences will relish in John Rutland’s immersive cinematography (one vantage point from inside an overturned RV is absolutely brilliant), and taut editing by Andrew Eckblad and Andy Jenkins maintains an impressive level of stress while moving the action along briskly. The script by frequent Sánchez collaborator Jamie Nash (“Lovely Molly” and the “V/H/S 2” segment “A Ride in the Park”) at first hones in on conflicts among the group — mostly between Brian and everyone else (Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards and Denise Williamson) — and just as the story feels like it’s going to be standard-issue for the sub-genre, things go batshit haywire.

“Exists” is showing tonight at the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival at AFI Silver, followed by a Q & A with director Eduardo Sánchez and writer Jamie Nash.

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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