Eduardo Sánchez returns to the woods where he found fame and fortune with The Blair Witch Project but his latest effort has none of his commercial hit’s authentic thrills or genuine menace…
Eduardo Sánchez’s rather uninspired filmmaking career following his debut hit The Blair Witch Project in 1999 continues its downward spiral with Exists, a found footage horror that swaps the Witch for Bigfoot. He’s in familiar territory as he chucks a group of fashion-model-teens into the middle of deserted woods with, for course, no phone signal. He proceeds to let them squabble amongst themselves as a killer, this time in the form of a carnivorous beast with revenge on its mind, hacks them up with claw and fang until there’s no human left for us to wish harm upon.
Sánchez’s fall from grace is mirrored by his fellow Blair Witch collaborator Daniel Myrick, each struggling to recreate the imaginative spark that not only produced one of the greatest found footage horror films ever made but influenced a generation of filmmakers to follow in their footsteps. 1999 seems like a long time ago now and their frightening depiction of a documentary film crew being harassed by a unseen entity in the Maryland wilderness appears to be a faded memory for the pair. Neither has been able to rekindle the sort of attention their debut feature received. You wonder if the financial success of their only real commercial hit made them a little too comfortable.
Exists is definitely a product of that comfort. Sánchez lazily throws together typical genre tropes (the sort that give the genre a bad name), while haphazardly severing his protagonist’s ties to the comfort of the civilised world with the loosest of plot contrivance. The film also hangs on a revenge motif which pulls annoyingly at your ability to suspend disbelief while the characters themselves are so thinly drawn you won’t mind either way if they succumb to the beast.
The film’s critical failure, however, shouldn’t be its weakest link given the experience of its director. Authenticity in the way footage is captured is key to a good found footage horror film, after all, when your life is on the line no one is thinking about mise en scène. Exists builds its narrative from the video shot by Brian (Chris Osborn), a pot-smoking YouTube enthusiast who has brought to the cabin in the woods his full filmmaking kit. This includes a professional digital camera, a night-vision camcorder and an assortment of high-definition GoPro units to perfectly capture the carnage from all angles. Suffice to stay, when things get really scary, he’s still working on his best Alfred Hitchcock impression.
Of course, there’s the odd moment throughout the film’s relatively short running time when the tension successfully raises the hairs on the back of the neck. When one of the group cycles off to find phone signal (thankfully captured for us viewers by two GoPro cameras on his bike and helmet) he’s unfortunately pursued by the woodland’s aggressive creature. Admittedly, it works terrifically well as the two-camera set-up films the unnerving attack.
Yet, Exists fails because everything from its characters to the premise and the threat of its antagonist is so mindlessly artificial. There are some set-ups that work on a superfluous level and the creature itself highlights the talents of the film’s special-effects team but you’ll be pulling your hair out at the inanity of it all. Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek is the film to watch if you want Bigfoot-meets-found-footage; Eduardo Sánchez’s Exists is better left to those who care little about a film making sense and who have plenty of time on their hands.