Exists begins with a title card that reads: “Since 1967, there have been over 3,000 Bigfoot encounters in the U.S. alone.” This implies that there have also been Bigfoot sightings in other countries, and that the mythically elusive humanoid creature isn’t a uniquely American brand of idiocy. According to Wikipedia—which is really as definitive a source of Bigfoot information as anything else—the vast majority of alleged incidents have occurred in the Pacific Northwest, with a few scattered—but historically significant!—reports trickling down from British Columbia. (Sasquatch? Saskatchewan? Bigfoot was an inside job!) Every culture has its own boogeyman, but only Americans seem so intent on finding ours and owning it.
The film’s most provocative question, however, is reserved for its second title card: “Experts agree that the creatures are only violent when provoked.” What the shit is a Bigfoot expert? The Bigfoot myth is predicated upon, and propagated by, a culture of people who spend their time trying to locate something they can’t afford to find. These people use conspiracy theories the way North Korea uses nuclear threats, perpetually sustaining the idea of an event because the inertia of its promise is all that sustains their way of life. Anyone hoping to make a found-footage horror movie about Bigfoot experts should have their cameras pointed directly back at the humans holding them.
Be that as it may, Exists isn’t a found-footage horror movie about Bigfoot experts; it’s one about a group of stranded cinematographers. Just kidding, it’s obviously about a group of stupid young people who couldn’t shoot a competent Vine, let alone a visually coherent feature. Brian (Chris Osborn) is a stupid young person who stole the keys to his uncle’s cabin, even though his uncle has expressly forbidden anyone from going there. Brian, mimicking the Cloverfield dynamic and casting himself as Hud, has invited four of his most attractive moron friends along for the trip, as if to ensure that he’ll be the fifth wheel left with nothing to do but roam the woods in search of a legendary beast. If the other characters have names, it’s difficult to ascertain what they are; the boys so consistently refer to each other as “bro” that it seems like a moot point. One of the girls is played by an actor who appeared in a few episodes of Friday Night Lights. Anyway, she dies.
Exists begins in media res, as these idiots are already in the car toward the cabin. Within seconds, they hit… something. Whatever it is, it’s not a deer. (“That wasn’t no deer, bro.”) But who cares about the living creature you just plowed into with your SUV when there’s a cabin party, motherfuckers!!! Except—and this is way un-chill—the cabin is totally gross. Whoever was there obviously left in a hurry. That’s clear because one of the girls says, “Whoever was here obviously left in a hurry,” not because the underlit, hideously pixelated footage captured by Brian’s GoPro cameras makes it remotely possible for viewers to reach that conclusion on their own.
At times, such as an early sequence in which one of the characters affixes a GoPro to a BMX bike, Exists feels like little more than a terribly misguided ad for the emerging brand of mountable cameras. And Bigfoot (spoiler alert: they find him!) sure does seem irresistibly attracted to the tiny devices, so that’s a selling point. Want to shoot painfully erratic footage while also fulfilling your dream of being mauled to death by the missing link? GoPro! Between this and that long-running series of Jack Link’s Jerky commercials, Bigfoot is kind of a corporate whore. Want to find him? Just stand in the woods and wave a paycheck. Jeez.
As Exists lumbers on, plodding through some shoddy jump-scares and a brief homage to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, its tenuous connection to the reality of its story is strained even further by the inconsistencies of its filmmaking. It’s a drag to knock a found-footage film for violating the pretense of its conceit, but Exists has so little concern for maintaining the illusion of its origins that it makes The Blair Witch Project look like a Frederick Wiseman documentary by comparison. And if anyone should know better, it’s director Eduardo Sánchez, best known for co-directing The Blair Witch Project. It’s potentially interesting that Sánchez confronts this film’s creature face-to-face, deviating from the formula he once helped pioneer. If only the practical effects used to depict Bigfoot weren’t the only remotely practical thing happening in or around this movie. (6-foot-7 actor Brian Steele convincingly inhabits the ape-like creature, but he’s had plenty of practice, seeing as how his breakthrough role was playing Harry in all 22 episodes of TV version of Harry And The Hendersons.)
Anyway, Exists is really fucking stupid.