If you want to trace the origin of the “found footage” concept you have to go all the way back to an obscure horror flick from 1998 called The Last Broadcast. Its narrative was told through the “found footage” of a documentary crew who were investigating the infamous Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. For whatever reason that particular “found footage” movie never caught on with the public. In fact I’d never heard of the movie until some years later. It wasn’t until July of the following year when Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project opened up and started burrowing it’s way into the consciousness of the public did we all learn what a powerful concept telling a tale solely through footage found from a characters portable video equipment could be.
In the beginning I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was. Real or fiction? I remember seeing Halle Berry on the Tonight Show back then telling Leno she thought the movie was real. I eventually caught on, and when I finally saw the movie on cable it creeped me out. That very evening I remembering getting dressed and heading down to my local Wal-Mart to buy it.
Well, here we are 16-17 years later, depending on where you want to draw that line of origin, and found footage movies are still all the craze, so much so I have come to detest the medium to a degree. Too much of a good thing is bad, and Hollywood is infamous for taking such things and running with them until they’re nothing more than gooey mush in their hands.
For me, though, Blair Witch still holds up to this day. I revisited it a couple of years ago on cable and thought, damn, this thing still creeps me out. And for the longest time I had not come across any other found footage flick I even wanted to see. So color me surprised when I ended up reviewing a movie called The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013) which was just as unsettling, and then surprise, surprise, this other movie comes along, The Taking Of Deborah Logan (2014), also “found footage” inspired, and just as engrossing and sinister. Okay, that’s two more FF movies I can add to my short list of found footage flicks I like, but would there ever be a three?
Yes, yes, there would be and it’s not surprising it would come from the same mind that dreamt up the Blair Witch. Mind you when I first heard Sanchez was doing a Killer Bigfoot movie FF-style I put up some resistance, I think I even vocalized this “resistance” on Sanchez’s Exist Facebook page at one point, also keep in mind this was way before Clophill and Deb Logan were ever conceived. In fact I think my softening on FF-style movies in the past couple of years (not to the point where I love the concept as a whole, but just enough to give me hope for future movies) can be solely attributed to the Clophill and Deb Logan flicks. I sometimes wonder if those movies never came along would I be reviewing Exists?
I might be.
I have a Facebook friend who saw Exists last year and told me it was the first flick he had seen about squatch that made him actually afraid of the creature. I first feared squatch back when I was a kid when I saw the made-for-TV flick, Snowbeast (1977) and Creature From Black Lake (1976), so I know what he was feeling.
I’ve always been a fan of Killer Squatch films, but for a long, long time there haven’t really been any serious horror flicks about him. The last one I saw was a short film called, Eaglewalk (2012), by director Rob Himebaugh, which I was so thrilled with I ended up reviewing it and I don’t generally review short films. Before that the only other serious Killer Squatch flick I can think of is Abominable (2006). To this day I keep wishing director, Ryan Schifrin, would do a sequel.
But when it comes to Exists I can honestly tell you this movie was the third I have seen in my lifetime that made Bigfoot scary. And I’m a grown man now. At least I kept telling myself that as the horrors of Exists unfolded in front of my eyes. It’s not a gory film either. There’s some blood, but I wouldn’t even categorize this is a gore flick. There’s simply no gore in the movie at all. It’s just an expertly crafted found footage film about the unrelenting terror an encounter with a homicidal squatch can generate.
Bigfoot, as myth and monster, has fascinated me since I was a kid. Not to the point of ever wanting to go in search of it, but more as an armchair investigator. Back when we were kids not only were my brother and me interested in insects and spiders we were also interested in the supernatural. This resulted in us accumulating many books over our childhood about ghosts, vampires, werewolves, the Loch Ness Monster, even fairies, and, yes, Bigfoot. Every time I see a Bigfoot movie or read about someone who’s had an encounter with it, I always wonder about the true nature of this creature. It’s imposing and frightening, when seen in the flesh and blood, as I understand it, but has there ever been an encounter where the person did not walk away with a tale to tell? I mean has there ever been encounters with the creature that’s resulted in a person or persons being killed? My gut says, yes. Hey, people go missing in the woods all the time and it makes me wonder what percentage of those missing were close encounters with a squatch.
It’s been theorized they may have human DNA thus making them some relation to us. If that’s so do they suffer from the same “moral illnesses” a human might? Are there psychopathic sqatches in existence? If the answer is yes, then you can logically conclude there are indeed some humans who have met their end at the hands of a Bigfoot. But evil squatches wouldn’t be the only reason a human could end up dead by one of their hands.
What I loved most about Exists is the squatch in this particular movie is not the bad guy. I know that sounds weird but this movie is simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, kids and squatch included, and not being able to make sense of the “motivations” of that encounter more bad decisions are made, more primal ones any human could also fall victim to. So, no, I don’t believe Sanchez’s squatch is a psychopath. A killer, yes, but not one that enjoys it.
Location is dead of night, East Texas, all this information will come out later in the film, but brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn) have an uncle, Bob (Jeff Schwan) is his name, and he has a cabin up here in the woods he never uses. You see this part of Texas gets a lot of Bigfoot sightings and from what I can only vaguely surmise is Bob had some kind of encounter of his own. I’m going to assume it was a “close encounter” seeing as he’s never used the cabin in what looks to be years, a decade perhaps.
Brian and Matt thought it would be fun if they stole the keys and came up here for an impromptu getaway, bringing along Matt’s girlfriend, Dora (Dora Madison Burge), and their friend, Todd (Roger Edwards) and his chick, Elizabeth (Denise Williamson). Brian doesn’t have a main squeeze, right now his love is the video camera, and he’s packed quite an assortment of GoPros and other visual grabbing tech to document their fun.
As I mentioned before this all starts from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and on this very night none of the kids are paying close attention to the road thanks to a prank they’re tying to pull on Brian who’s asleep in the passenger’s seat. Suddenly they strike something. Getting out to investigate gleans a broken headlight and some blood. Sure, okay, they accidentally hit an animal, but there’s no animal in sight and the dark woods is now full of a weird moaning sound. I think you can pretty much get a handle on what they hit and if you’re still not sure, playing back the camera Brian just happened to have aiming out the window shows a massive “something” at the corner of the car’s headlights and a smaller “something” behind it.
Right away I got an Evil Dead vibe as the gang heads off the beaten road and onto this barely passable dirt track that culminates in a fallen tree. Looks like they’re walking the rest of the way. And the cabin even has a hidden basement, which again made me feel all Evil Dead warm inside, but the discovery of the basement doesn’t happen for a while.
The kids go out and have their fun but the first couple of nights are marred by that sad, whimpering moan. Brian’s the one that becomes instantly drawn to the prospect of seeing a Bigfoot, knowing full well about the area’s sightings, and his first sighting happens as he’s GoPro peeping on Todd and Liz as they try to have sex in the woods. Something up on a nearby ridge grabs his attention and he hollers a warning to them. Sure this gets is his ass pinched by Todd and Liz who are mad as hell as being peeped at, but, hey, no harm, no foul.
I mean, no one’s dead, right?
All the Bigfoot attacks are filmed in such a way where the camera never fully sits on it so you can get a good look at it. This works to an insane advantage for the viewer for it makes all of it’s attacks unnerving. As each attack escalates it quickly gets smart enough to know that big mechanical thing they arrived in has the potential to get them quickly out of the area and away from it, so it takes the next logical step and destroys the truck thoroughly.
Kids don’t start dying until a decision is made by Matt to get on his bike and ride out along the path until he can get cell reception and call the cops. The others knowing things are going to get worse stay behind and barricade the doors and windows. Giving them an added edge is the discovery of a basement (potential place to hide?) and a rifle Todd decides he’s going to use for the rest of the movie.
Matt’s encounter out in the woods with the Bigfoot is probably the first real scare we get. All you see of Matt and the area is through a GoPro attached to his helmet and one on his bike. Squatch is quickly spotted right there in the middle of the road as Matt’s randomly walking about trying to get cell reception. That quick shot will make you jump and even scarier is Squatch’s insane, maniacal growling/grunting run through the woods after the kid as he tries to outrun the creature on his bike.
Let’s put it this way Matt doesn’t make it too far.
Now Squatch is about to up his revenge by attacking the rest of the kids at the cabin that night, and it starts off by throwing Matt’s bike onto the porch showing the kids their friend did not make it. Liz is killed (looks to me like it picked her up, shook her enough to break her neck or something) and Brian, Todd and Dora are forced to take refuge in the basement as the beast manages to break in. It’s not long before their basement refuge is found out but Todd’s rifle gives Squatch something it didn’t count on. Hurt and bloody it flees into the woods.
Now the movie becomes a little more reminiscent of Blair Witch as the three kids are now forced to take to the woods since their cabin is no longer safe. Brian swears he knows a short cut and I have to admit at this point the idea of a shortcut sounds good. Squatch probably assumes they’ll stick to the road and it’d be be staking it out, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. It finds them wherever they go.
I don’t want to say too much more about the movie except when we finally get to the end and learn why these kids were targeted it reminded me heavily of Pumpkinhead (1988), except without the middle man. The sudden presence of Uncle Bob in an area where you wouldn’t think no person should be able to find had me wondering if he knows more about these creatures than he ever let on to his nephews.
The ending had me conflicted. I will just come out and say it, there is one survivor. In a way this gives squatch a sympathetic character arc but then again in wake of his Bigfoot rage, which we humans generally don’t really know anything about, yet, there probably shouldn’t have been any survivors. I don’t know, I’m still on the fence about it. At any rate this is a top-notch Killer Squatch flick! Seek it out, people. Seek. It. Out.
Back on February 3rd Lionsgate released Exists on DVD only. No blu-ray exists at the moment.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital—English SDH, Spanish subtitles only
- Audio commentary with Director Eduardo Sanchez and Writer Jamie Nash
- Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary) (6 scenes in all)
- 21 Days In The Woods: Behind The Scenes Of Exists (Parts 1-3) (29:47)
- Bringing Bigfoot To Life (9:43)
I initially thought it was the creature’s mate that was struck and killed. That scene near the end with the body . . . I couldn’t see the appropriate scale of it and thought I was looking at an adult squatch. And even though I had heard previously the creature seeking revenge might be a female, when you finally see it, well, it doesn’t look even remotely female, so my assumption was the male lost his mate in that “hit and run.” The commentary cleared things up. It was a cub that was struck and killed, and when Sanchez mentioned that I looked more closely and finally realized it was indeed the dead body of a child squatch. Though I still believe it was the child’s father seeking the revenge and not the mother. All in all it was a good commentary.
There was only one deleted scene I thought should have been put back in. The one where Liz explains she saw the squatch peeping at her through the bathroom window. All the others it made sense to take out. You have the option of watching the scenes with or without Sanchez’s commentary. I watched them all with the commentary.
The three part doc was excellent. I was amazed at all the work that went into making this film look like it was all filmed with GoPros. Seeing stuntman, Brian Steel, who played the squatch, talking and interacting with the crew like a normal human being even though he was all made up in his squatch costume was odd for the first few minutes.
Second best featurette is Bringing Bigfoot To Life. Sanchez also narrates this one and I had no idea New Zealand’s Weta Workshop was initially involved in this flick. If you ever doubt whether any monster movie’s FX are going to be any good and you then hear Weta is involved you can relax. They did some early designs and one of the photos of its mug was actually quite creepy looking. I almost wished they had used that one, but Sanchez found Spectral Motion when he decided to shoot the film here in the states. I have to agree with Sanchez, Motion’s squatch is probably the best looking squatch committed to film.
If you’re wondering where we go from here with Killer Bigfoot movies now that the bar’s been raised, I listened to an interview Sanchez did with The Cryptocast late last year and he’s got a sequel in mind but I think he’s going to try and get an Exists TV series off the ground first. He briefly touches on the idea for both in the commentary too.