Being as The Blair Witch Project is my favourite horror movie, and I decided to Watch The Objective last week because it was directed by Daniel Myrick, half of the team who made that movie, it seemed to be the right time to watch Exists, a 2014 found-footage horror movie directed by the other half of the duo, Eduardo Sanchez.
To appreciate The Blair Witch Project, you needed to have seen it upon initial release. While it didn’t invent the technique of Cinema Verite, it’s arguably the movie that ushered the phrase “found footage” into public consciousness. Since 1999, this narrative technique has been seen in many low budget genre movies, mostly horror, to varying (some would say diminishing) degrees of success. While it has its detractors, I’m not completely opposed to it. Like anything else, if something is done well, it’s hard to dislike it. But The Blair Witch Project is a movie that isn’t timeless. If you didn’t get to see it first time around, but did watch movies like Chronicle and the Paranormal Activity series, you’re going to view the movie through the lens of those movies, and what you’ve heard about it, and the experience you get is nothing at all like that of people who viewed it at the time.
Neither Myrick nor Sanchez has been anywhere near as successful with their post-Blair Witch careers, which is strange when you consider that their miniscule budget of $50K – $60K yielded a final worldwide box office of almost a quarter billion dollars. Quite how or why these men never stepped up to bigger and better things is a mystery itself, but not worth dwelling on for the purposes of a review. I enjoyed Myrick’s The Objective, and it spurred me on to Exists, and that’s that.
Other than The Blair Witch Project, my only experience of Sanchez’s work was the V/H/S 2 segment A Ride In The Park, which I didn’t think was so great, but wondered why Sanchez would return to the concept of found footage moviemaking. Just to clarify, I know that the V/H/S franchise by definition relies on that narrative technique, I was wondering why Sanchez would agree to a do a movie that would offer up inevitable comparisons with his one big deal. After watching Exists, I’m wondering the same thing.
I’ll preface the rest of the review by saying that I liked Exists, despite many things I didn’t like, but watching it does make me think that Sanchez is a bit of a one-trick pony. Or he’s a moviemaker that’s content to be pigeonholed for the choices he’s made in his career. There’s nothing whatsoever about Exists that has an original bone in its body, from the technique, to the characters, to the situations. You’ve seen this movie a dozen times before by now. At its core, it’s yet another cabin-in-the-woods variation. Here, the cabin is literally in the woods, and even has a trap door in the living room, just like the granddaddy of them all, Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead. A group of friends travel to this place for a weekend of fun and games, but hit something with their car on the way, and are besieged by bigfoot. Yep, bigfoot. No spoilers here – the badly designed poster gives it all away. Of all the things I didn’t like, the monster of choice was maybe the worst. Not because it’s badly done (it isn’t), but when it comes to that mythical beast, I think most people (myself included) automatically think of the comedic aspect of the creature (Harry and the Hendersons, the Jack Link’s Beef Jerky Messing With Sasquatch ad campaign), and any dramatic or horrific aspects have been mostly reduced to crackpot cryptozoology, and the redneck talking heads that appear in TV shows about the thing. And in that light, when you finally get to see the creature, it literally just looks like the beef jerky ad version – and as it turns out, it’s the same person in the furry suit (Brian Steele, who’s made a career playing monsters in the movies and TV)! It’s a disappointing choice of monster, especially considering the movie doesn’t dwell at all on the myth, doesn’t attempt to make it scarier by reputation. Having said that, Sanchez does do a good job keeping the thing in the shadows for most of the 80 minutes of the movie, relying on the weird and creepy noises it makes in the darkness to great effect.
Other than the cliché of the premise, and the choice of monster, the characters were mostly annoying, and the conceit of continuing to film while everything else is turning to shit is really just too off-putting to be anything less than distracting. It’s a movie that doesn’t need to use the found-footage technique, and since there’s an actual musical score, it just feels dumber. I literally couldn’t stand the main character, Brian (Chris Osborn) – no fault of the actor here, I just find that kind of character bugs the hell out of me in real life. Having to sit through a whole movie with such a dumbbell is a real chore.
But all of the negatives aside, I found myself enjoying it mostly throughout. Sanchez may be a moviemaker unable to do any other kind of thing, but here he does it well. The scenes are tight and claustrophobic, and are steeped in a lot of the same kind of tension he and Myrick successfully created in The Blair Witch Project. For me, the movie works on the level of pure mood and atmosphere, and the lack of interesting or relatable characters which normally is a thing for me, rightly takes a back seat to the other aspects. This is certainly a case where the weaknesses in Jamie Nash’s writing are far overshadowed by a moviemaker who clearly knows what he’s doing. I’m really surprised Exists didn’t get a wider release in 2014 – it’s a much more effective movie of this type than many others, but whatever went into the decisions surroundings its release, it only grossed a ridiculous $42K. I’m not suggesting you rush out and try to find it, but it would be worth watching if the opportunity presents itself.