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.
Five 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.