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Exists

Year: 2014
Production Co: Court Five
Director: Eduardo Sánchez
Writer: Jamie Nash/Eduardo Sánchez
Cast: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Brian Steele

I'm sure every time I review a film even remotely connected to either Eduardo Sanchez or Daniel Myrick I go on about how they could have had Hollywood in the palms of their hands after The Blair Witch Project and for some reason either never wanted to be hot directors inside the system or had the worst possible luck, timing, representation or distribution in trying to do so.

Exhibit 'a' is Myrick's ace and very enigmatic thriller The Objective, where spies and soldiers on the battlefields of the Middle East meet something incredible and perhaps otherworldly, has the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest box office grosses of any movie ever.

I'll try not to go on about how we were either robbed of vital new talents in movie lore or that they shied away from the limelight – but then something like Exists comes along. Directed this time by Sanchez from a script by he and co-writer Jamie Nash, it proves not only that Blair Witch was no fluke, but that Sanchez is as talented working alone as Myrick is.

Unfortunately, whatever curse the two suffered after upending the way movies are made and sold a couple of decades ago still stands, this film making barely a blip on the cultural consciousness and making less than half a million dollars back.

And as with The Objective it's a crying shame more people haven't seen it, because it's a wickedly good creature feature, getting several elements that are traditionally hard to pin down in this genre just right. The first (no small feat 12 years after Cloverfield, 21 years after Myrick and Sanchez popularised the format and 50 years since its credited origins in Cannibal Holocaust) is balancing the restrictions, parameters and opportunities of found footage perfectly.

It's a delicate line to tread giving your audience enough of a view of what's going on, employing the shaky style of what cameras would do if carried by people running and screaming, and doing it all while giving the character a plausible reason to keep filming (or for a camera to just happen to be pointing at the action) when their lives are in immediate danger.

The other major triumph is in getting the balance of monster visuals just right. Where some movies put the creature front and centre so much it lessens the impact because the director wants to showcase the incredible work his/her designer and make-up teams have done or because it's too exposed in the marketing or poster, some films by contrast keep the monster too much in shadow and too mobile, never giving you a clear enough look and forgetting the essentially car-crash draw of creature movies - you're there to see a creature.

Maybe Sanchez had Jaws in mind as a touchstone for revealing his beast, but he follows that classic's proven rhythm beautifully. You only see a dark, shaggy shape loping through the forest in shadows and glimpses for a long time, trees shaking or horrifying calls ringing out in the forest. When you do get your first close-up look at an angry, hairy face, it's there and gone so quick you start to question whether you've even seen it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself after all. You're in the forest because a group of attractive twentysomething friends have come to a secluded cabin owned by one if their uncles, a place barely used, covered in dust and locked up tight. They're out there to have a weekend away, but one of them, film nut Brian (Chris Osborn) is determined to find and document the mythical Bigfoot, long said to stalk the woods nearby.

On the way in the troupe gets a nasty shock when Brian's brother Matt (Samuel Davis), who's driving, hits something on the road. It's too dark to see anything, and when they then find a huge tree across their path down the dirt track, they hike to the house, try to make themselves comfortable and get on with their holiday.

But the point of impact on the car has blood and coarse, scraggly hair on it, and that night angry howls emerge from the darkness surrounding the cabin. Though nobody wants to believe it, something is after them. When they ultimately decide to play it safe and leave they find the car completely destroyed. Something – or someone – doesn't want them going anywhere.

Matt gets on his mountain bike, attaches a GoPro to his helmet and takes off to try and go for help while Brian, Todd (Roger Edwards), Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) and Dora (Dora Madison) prepare to hunker down and defend themselves against whatever's out in the woods.

Even though they find a trapdoor into a secret basement, the rifle and shells they find in the bunker below are barely enough to fight against the gigantic, vengeful thing that descends on the house and attacks. They emerge the next morning to find the house completely trashed, open to the elements and whatever hunting them, so they decide to flee.

By this time they've managed to contact Bob, the boys' uncle who owns the cabin, to raise the alarm, but the monster shambling through the trees doesn't intend to let them go so easily. With at least one of their number dead, walking alone through the forest and with an enemy they're no match for by the time the movie's barely halfway over, you're very invested in what else can possibly happen, and the script is very clever about wrangling plausible cause and effect to keep the tension going and making you think the surviving friends might have a chance.

By the time it all comes to a head, you'll have been chilled and thrilled, enjoyed some very decent horror movie shocks and seen just enough of a Bigfoot the way you imagine one would look like to make the whole thing a very gratifying watch.

A $100m budget from a big studio might be a mixed blessing for Sanchez or Myrick, but for all the moviemaking talent they've shown so far on minuscule resources, it'd be great to see what they do with it.

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