Between 2010 and 2016, at least 11 “found footage” Bigfoot movies were made. Seriously. Look it up for yourself. You probably didn’t hear anything about them unless you are a fan of the genre or the mythical beast but that’s entirely typical. The drive-in/grindhouse theater of the past was first replaced by direct-to-video and now by direct-to-online/on demand as a place where the cinema of hopes, dreams and failures goes to linger on forever. There’s a new crop of motion pictures coming out every week made by established talents who have fallen out of favor and outsiders seeking that breakthrough success. Most disappear with barely anyone noticing, usually because they’re so terrible they don’t deserve any notice but sometimes they just get missed because there’s so damn much stuff demanding our attention.
But why Bigfoot? What is it about this furry rural legend that became so interesting all of a sudden? And what does the renaissance in Sasquatch cinema tell us about the state of the “found footage” genre? That’s what this edition of KIMT’s Weekend Throwdown will examine as “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” (2012) squares off against “Exists” (2014) in a clash that illuminates the thin and crazily shifting line separating good and bad filmmaking.
These movies are quite similar because…well, there’s not a whole lot of variety with the Bigfoot narrative. Unless you’re making a parody, you can’t really have Bigfoot in the inner city or outer space or underwater. It pretty much always has to follow the pattern of…
- A bunch of people go into the woods.
- They almost meet Bigfoot.
- They meet Bigfoot.
- Running and yelling.
In “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” (2012), those people are Sean Reynolds (Drew Rausch), his buddy Darryl Coleman (Rich McDonald), his ex-girlfriend Robyn Conway (Ashley Wood) and Kevin Lancaster (Noah Weisberg), a poor schmuck who got roped in by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sean is one of those guys always floating around the periphery of the entertainment industry, getting a job here and there but never amounting to anything. He’s come up with an idea for a TV docu-series called “Hoax Busters” and has a lead on what he’s sure will be a killer pilot episode. A man named Carl Drybeck (Frank Ashmore) claims to have the corpse of an actual Sasquatch and he’ll let Sean film it for the price of $75,000.
With Sean as the on-camera host, Darryl the main camera man, Robyn the producer and Kevin the sound guy, recruited when another of Sean’s friends tells him “You want this black man to go into the woods with you white folks and try and find Bigfoot? Yeah, I know how that story ends and I ain’t going,” our foursome head out into the forest and it all turns out just about exactly how you are imagining it.
“Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” isn’t terrible by “found footage” standards. Director Corey Grant does a competent job of having a guy in a hairy suit run through the background of his shots and avoids too much nausea-inducing camera movement. Screenwriters Brian Kelsey and Bryan O’Cain do a decent job of creating characters that have definable personalities and motivations and show at least a hint of imagination by blurring the lines between cryptozoology and the outright paranormal. The cast all seem capable of doing this acting thing for a living.
There is, however, a difference between not terrible and genuinely good. None of the characters are even vaguely likable. Robyn is tolerable due to Ashley Wood being very nice to look at but there’s not one second of this film where you care a whit whether these people live or get turned into beef jerky. And the ending is truly a minor fiasco where one of the major points of “found footage” filmmaking is completely missed. The conceit of it being real hand held video shot by real people is that it gives you an excuse to not show a lot of stuff when you don’t have the budget to put it on screen. You get to imply what’s happening and let the viewer’s mind fill in the details. “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” instead tries to climax with special effects shots that belong in some high school kid’s B+ film project.
But I have to give it credit for being an actual story with an actual plot that gives actual reasons why the characters do the things they do and why the story unfolds the way it does. That’s a lot more than I can say for “Exists” (2014).
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, one of the guys behind “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), and written by Jamie Nash, who wrote one of the segments in “V/H/S 2” (2013), this film also sends a group of people into the wood and also has them encounter a monster and also has them film everything that happens to them. But there are some significant differences.
The main characters in “Exists” are named Brian (Chris Osborn), Dora (Dora Madison), Todd (Roger Edwards), Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) and Matt (Samuel Davis). You know what’s missing from that list? LAST NAMES. There’s no surer sign of bad writing than characters who don’t have last names because it shows the writer never conceived of them as legitimate human beings, just nails to be repeatedly smashed by the Almighty Plot Hammer. The characters in “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” may not have been likable or memorable but at least they were identifiable. It was two dude bros, a new age chick and an awkward nebbish. The people in “Exists” are merely meat sacks being trundled down a conveyor belt.
And let me be clear, it is not the actors’ fault these characters suck. Again, everybody in “Exists” appears qualified to make some kind of living on screen. The script simply doesn’t give them anything with which to work.
And “Exists” is also a “found footage” movie that isn’t truly a “found footage” movie. It has opening credits and a soundtrack and there’s a couple of time lapse scenes in it. There’s no pretense it was edited together from real video shot by real people. This is a totally traditional work of cinema fiction that is shot as through it were “found footage.” And it’s shot very well, to be fair. Sanchez shows off a much better and more sophisticated sense of visual style and setting than Corey Grant. But by annihilating the conceit that what we’re seeing is stuff that truly happened in the real world, “Exists” turns out to be a normal film that looks like crap compared to other normal films.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid an emotional reaction when you’re watching point-of-view video shot from a handheld camera, as long as your brain can turn on its suspension of disbelief. That’s why the “found footage” genre has flourished, because even the bad ones still have an impact due to the power inherent to the concept. “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” is honestly scary at times because of that power. “Exists” squanders that power by not even pretending to be real. It’s only 81 minutes long and the last 40 or so minutes have no impact whatsoever because it’s just a normal movie with camerawork that would look like garbage in any normal movie. Sanchez may have thought he was breaking new ground but all he accomplished was to demonstrate the limits of the genre.
And while “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” offers up some pretty contrived explanations for why its characters keep filming long after any intelligent person would have put the camera away, at least it offers explanations. All you can do with “Exists” is assume that the person who films everything is some sort of clinically insane voyeur.
This Throwdown is an example of why Hollywood turns out so much dreck. “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” is the product of apparently modest talent following a formula that’s been repeated by a jillion others. “Exists” is the result of apparently greater ability attempting to deviate from that pattern. Yet it is the former who takes this Throwdown because faithfully following a successful formula managed to create a watchable motion picture. The latter’s effort at doing something new wound up manufacturing a film that isn’t worth anyone’s time.
And as for why there have been so many “found footage” flicks about Sasquatch? I wish there were some profound sociological or psychological motivation, like a technologically alienated culture striving to reconnect with the primitive, but the true answer is…what else are you gonna do? It’s too expensive to shoot on the water for sea monsters and you need permits to shoot in the city, so taking a camera into the woods is the easiest thing for low budget filmmakers to do. And once you are out in woods, there’s already been umpteen ghost stories and, for the purposes of “found footage” flicks, aliens are just another kind of ghost. Whether various folks grabbed the same idea from the zeitgeist at the same time or decided to rip off someone else’s inspiration, Bigfoot is an obvious choice if you’re making a horror flick in the forest.
I’m sure they’ll get around to the Jersey Devil one of these days.
Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes (2012)
Written by Brian Kelsey and Bryan O’Cain.
Directed by Corey Grant.
Starring Drew Rausch, Rich McDonald, Ashley Wood, Noah Weisberg, Frank Ashmore, Rowdy Kelley, Japheth Gordon, Sweetie Sherrie, Chrison Thompson and Alan Carnes.
Written by Jamie Nash.
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez.
Starring Chris Osborn, Dora Madison, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Brian Steele, Jeff Schwan and George P. Gakoumis Jr.