“Is Bigfoot even scary?” is a sentence I overheard at a bar once. I have to admit I’m not sure I know the answer. I mean, you don’t see a plethora of other primate, missing-link or otherwise, horror movies out there. Is the idea of a tangible creature, contextual in our own evolution, roaming through the woods even that frightening, or is it mostly just intriguing? If so, how does one make a monster picture with something purely animal, with no evil intentions or any association with Satan at all? Come to think of it, satanic Bigfoot might be scary, but in Eduardo Sanchez’s newest film, Exists, Satan is on sabbatical. Instead we are treated to the fury of nature, even if it’s of the legend/myth variety.
The most notable directorial decision from the opening frames of Exists is that Sanchez is truly embracing his return to not only found footage, but to the “actual footage” of young people in the woods conceit that made his “The Blair Witch Project” so famous. In truth, the entire film feels like spiritual sequel to that film. Ignoring the actual sequel, “Book of Shadows”, Exists has more in common with the original Blair Witch than the style. Consider the similarities, young people in the woods filming their adventure, all while something in the woods torments them in escalating ways, starting with subtle sounds, ending with a friend yelling for help off screen that may or may not be leading our heroes into a trap.
Where Exists diverts dramatically from The Blair Witch Project is its willingness and ability to show the villain. Unlike the witch and her compatriots, the monster in Exists has no problem making itself visible. At first choosing to reveal itself in ways that conveniently resemble the Patterson-Gimlin film, the monster eventually comes front and center, ready to be seen and ready to terrorize. The problem, though, is that no matter how good the practical effects are(and they are great here) the tangible is never as scary in these kind of films than the threat of what is hiding in the shadows. This makes the attempt at terror mostly ineffective.
Another element in Exists that dulls any real horror is that the monster is given a motive, and a mostly sympathetic and humanizing one. This makes the antagonist more interesting, and gives it layers not found in most horror movies, but it does not add to tension or fear.
And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure that’s what Sanchez is going for here. In many ways, Exists feels like a stylistic mashup between “The Blair Witch Project” and “A Ride in the Park”, Sanchez’s V/H/S 2 contribution. It’s almost as if Sanchez has consciously harnessed his work of the past and attempted to hide a dramatic revenge picture within its confines. Yes there are “Blair Witch” components and there are “A Ride in the Park” components, but their inclusion could be seen as a conscious decision instead of a director rehashing his past work.
By including these styles Sanchez has knowingly alluded to a very famous portion of his filmography. These allusions lead the audience to expect a certain kind of film, and Exists diverts this quite knowingly. So while a large portion of the audience may leave this film with the underwhelming sense of watching a standard found footage horror, the truth is that Sanchez has tried to branch out from his past. Instead of attempting a sprawling Civil War epic, however, Sanchez’s diversion comes in the form of reusing expected tropes and cinematic styles to advance a story unlike any he has tried before.