×

Film Review: ‘Exists’

Generic script and cardboard characters hobble 'The Blair Witch Project' co-director Eduardo Sanchez's return to found-footage horror.

With:
Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Brian Steele, J.P. Schwan.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1988621/

Fifteen years after “The Blair Witch Project,” co-director Eduardo Sanchez makes a lackluster return to found-footage horror with the Bigfoot thriller “Exists.” Eschewing the painfully slow-burning suspense and pseudo-realism that helped make “Blair Witch” a sleeper smash and genre touchstone, Sanchez’s thoroughly conventional approach here does little to elevate a dismally generic script from frequent collaborator Jamie Nash. Although “Exists” somehow managed to land an audience award at this year’s SXSW fest, the day-and-date VOD and limited theatrical release will look more at home as filler on basic-cable genre channels.

It would be a stretch to call any of the walking targets in “Exists” a proper character, but YouTube-obsessed Brian (Chris Osborn) nearly fits the bill. Never without a piece of recording equipment on hand or strapped to his body, the insufferable dudebro embarks on a trek into the East Texas woods with sibling Matt (Samuel Davis); Matt’s girlfriend, Dora (Dora Madison Burge); and another couple (Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson). Supposedly this personality-free crew is headed to a family cabin for dirt biking and fun in the sun, but Brian has an ulterior motive: to find proof of his uncle’s alleged Sasquatch sightings.

The confirmation arrives almost immediately when the gang’s ride sideswipes a mysterious creature in the woods. It disappears before anyone can get a good look, but playback on one of Brian’s cameras reveals a fleeting glimpse of an oversized hairy beast. The merry band of idiots assume it was only an animal and soldier on, before turning up their noses when they arrive at the rundown cabin. Lack of maid service quickly becomes the least of their problems when their vehicle is destroyed and they find themselves at the mercy of a bizarrely capricious hirsute foe. (This Bigfoot attacks and retreats with loopy abandon, tormenting instead of simply terminating his prey.)

Whatever one thinks of “Blair Witch,” it wasn’t just a trendsetter in the horror genre; it also functioned as a savvy experiment in the psychology of fear for its characters and the audience. “Exists” harbors no such ambitions, instead throwing out every hoary cliche in the rampaging-monster-movie playbook and practically daring viewers to find a reason to invest in its cardboard characters and borderline-indiscernible suspense sequences, alternately shrouded in darkness or rendered incomprehensible by nausea-inducing handheld camerawork.

While Sanchez has dabbled in p.o.v. filmmaking post-“Blair Witch” as co-director of the mockumentary web series “ParaAbnormal” (with Nash) and the bike-helmet-cam zombie segment in “S-VHS” (with Gregg Hale), this is the first full-length feature he’s made in that style since his breakthrough. But the director doesn’t even evince much regard for found-footage fundamentals, assuming auds won’t question why Brian keeps cameras rolling in enough locations (including bikes and helmets) to get multiple angles on every squabble, showdown and demise, or why his friends don’t tell him to quit filming when things get rough and help them try to survive.

The actors appear every bit as stranded as their characters. Former “Friday Night Lights” regular Burge attempts to emote a bit more than the others, but finds herself several galaxies removed from the smallscreen drama’s nuanced and naturalistic storytelling (although both projects filmed on location in Texas).

The manifestation of Bigfoot reps the film’s sole selling point. The beast is initially more heard more than seen, as supervising sound editor Kevin Hill and creature vocal designer Matt Davies craft an appropriately unsettling mix of groans, moans and bellowing growls emanating from the pitch-black woods, before the monster reveals itself in full. When it does, it’s surprisingly convincing (Brian Steele fills the detailed getup designed by Mike Elizalde, currently enjoying plaudits for creating Michael Keaton’s “Birdman” suit).

For a small segment of genre fans, that may be enough to justify the surrounding inanity. For anyone else, Sanchez’s film simply proves that just because a movie exists doesn’t mean it needs to be seen.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Exists'

Reviewed online, West Hollywood, Oct. 22, 2014. (In SXSW Film Festival  Midnighters.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 81 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate release presented with Lionsgate, Haxan Films and Court Five in association with Miscellaneous Entertainment. Produced by Robin Cowie, Jane Fleming, Mark Ordesky, J. Andrew Jenkins. Executive producers, Reed Frerichs, Gregg Hale, George Waud, D. Todd Shepherd.

Crew: Directed by Eduardo Sanchez. Screenplay, Jamie Nash. Camera (color, HD), John W. Rutland; editors, J. Andrew Jenkins, Andrew Eckblad, Sanchez; music, Nima Fakhrara; production designer, Andrew C. White; set decorator, Monique Champagne; costume designer, Charlotte Harrigan; sound, Jason Strickhausen; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Kevin Hill; creature and makeup effects, Spectral Motion; creature effects designer, Mike Elizalde; visual effects supervisor, Justin Puda; visual effects, Rocket Lab Creative; stunt coordinator, Jeff Schwan; associate producer, Mary Beth Chambers; assistant director, Jenkins; casting, Beth Sepko.

With: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Brian Steele, J.P. Schwan.

More Film

  • Yoji Yamada-directed film is to open

    Tokyo Market: Shochiku Launches Horror, Comedy and Mystery Lineup

    Major Japanese studio, Shochiku has the honor of leading off next week’s Tokyo International Film Festival with its “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here.” The film is a revival of a beloved in-house drama franchise, directed by veteran Yoji Yamada, that is set as the event’s opening night gala presentation. Before that, the company has the [...]

  • The Truth

    Singapore Festival to Focus on Asian Excellence for 30th Edition

    For its 30th edition the Singapore International Film Festival has avoided programming novelty and instead focused on assembling excellence – mostly indie titles — from Asia and further afield. The festival, which previously announced local filmmaker Anthony Chen’s second feature “Wet Season” as its opening night gala presentation, announced the balance of its programming on [...]

  • Isabela Moner Dora the Explorer

    Film News Roundup: Isabela Merced Boards Jason Momoa's 'Sweet Girl' for Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, Isabela Merced get cast opposite Jason Momoa, “Starbright” gets financing and AFM announces its speakers. CASTING Isabela Merced, formerly Isabela Moner, has come on board to portray the daughter of Jason Momoa in his upcoming revenge thriller “Sweet Girl” for Netflix. Momoa will play a devastated man who vows to [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Christian Bale, Matt Damon to Campaign in Lead Actor Category for 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon will both campaign in the lead actor category for awards for their work in Fox’s upcoming “Ford v Ferrari,” Variety has learned. “Ford v Ferrari” follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content