Some call it Bigfoot, some call it the Sasquatch, and in other parts of the world similar legends persist, the Yowie of Australia, the Yeren of Mongolia, the Yeti of the Himalayas, a primitive man-ape which inhabits the few remaining sparsely populated forested wildernesses which hold out against suburban encroachment. Coming to public attention in the Americas through the fifties, it was in the seventies that cinema began to take notice, from The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) to Snowbeast (1977), with a different approach in Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and most recently in Willow Creek (2013).
It is Charles B Pierce’s faux documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek which Eduardo Sánchez – director, most notably evident in the success of his debut feature in collaboration with Daniel Myrick, the now infamous Blair Witch Project (1999) which purported to be genuinely recovered video tapes from a student film crew who disappeared while investigating the folk tales of the Black Hills.
While the editing and soundtrack mark Exists as straying beyond the perimeter of true found footage, the plot itself is the most unembellished and uninspired reading of all the most obvious and overused clichés of that subgenre, a group of twenty-to-thirtysomethings who head into the wild woods of east Texas to party undisturbed in a remote cabin, recording every inconsequentiality of the trip with a veritable arsenal of professional camera equipment as they find themselves trapped and under threat with no means of communicating with the outside world as they bicker amongst themselves.
Trapped in the ramshackle cabin, the frame may be cluttered yet the characters are empty, with no attempt to develop them or make them marginally appealing, playing childish pranks on each other, filming each other surreptitiously, every moment of the film done a dozen times over in similar films right down to the revelation that Matt and Brian took the keys to their uncle’s cabin without his knowledge, the inevitable betrayal of trust which drives animosity and splinters the group upon which all found footage films depend in lieu of an actual storyline.
As tiresome as it is to watch teenagers misbehave in the woods, the slightly older age range (with four of the actors curiously being drawn from the cast of Friday Night Lights) does not guarantee more mature or considered behaviour, with Todd (Roger Edwards) expending their meagre ammunition firing randomly into the night while Dora (Dora Madison Burge) and Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) do little more than whine, cry and panic, though it is Brian (Chris Osborn) who inherits the obligatory “crying helplessly into the camera lens” moment.
The most experienced performer is the Sasquatch himself, Brian Steele, who previously played a similar role in the television version of Harry and the Hendersons as well as one of the forms of the Kothoga in The Relic (1997), various lycans in the Underworld series and numerous creatures across the two Hellboy films. Had the character and nature of the Sasquatch been explored and developed more before the final scenes, this could have at least tried to be a more interesting film, but in that absence the documentary Shooting Bigfoot suffices as an exploration of the legend and those who hunt it.
Written by Jamie Nash who worked with Sánchez on Altered (2006) and Seventh Moon (2008), the most relevant collaboration is their most recent, the short piece A Ride in the Park from V/H/S/2 (2013) which is almost recreated as the central section of Exists, as unfortunate camper Matt (Samuel Davis, From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) takes the viewer on a cycle ride through the forest filmed first person via Go-Pro camera, here attempting to outrun an enraged Sasquatch rather than fleeing ravening zombies.
With the cast and crew of Exists listed upfront, even as he revisits his origins Sánchez is trying to move away from the found footage genre much as he did with his last feature, 2012’s Lovely Molly, but this is a marked step backwards stylistically, narratively and dramatically, though from a purely technical point of view it is an effective showcase of the possibilities open to low budget filmmakers through modern cameras and recording technologies.
The strength of Sánchez’ previous work has been the performances he has drawn from his cast, but whereas Lovely Molly, also penned by Nash, offered strong roles for its two leads, Gretchen Lodge and the late Johnny Lewis in one of his final roles, Exists feels like nothing so much as treading water by a team who are both capable of far better, almost a contractual obligation to those who expect them to generate a specific product and are unwilling to accept their creative evolution, and it is hoped that his work on the new television series Intruders affords Sánchez more challenge and the opportunity to finally break the shackles of found footage with which he is unjustly synonymous.