With Exists, Blair Witch co-director Eduardo Sanchez makes a feature length return to the aesthetic which launched both his career and 1000 indie horror films: found footage. Fifteen-plus years on from his seminal work, the medium is as popularat least with filmmakers, if not fansas ever, but only recently is starting to see some real experimentation. Many seem afraid to give into the fact that despite its illusion of verisimilitude, found footage movies are still movies. Films like those in the V/H/S series and the underrated Mr. Jones are digging in and playing around, and now, one of the styles pioneers is as well.
Sanchez opens Exists with dreamy imagery, the grainy footage played slow, music over it. It doesnt last particularly long, but feels a statement all the same. As with this segment in V/H/S/2, Sanchez is here to have fun and see what we can do with the familiar shaky horror and a prosumer creature feature. Shock Till You Drop spoke with Sanchez about the film, out February 3rd on DVD and Blu from Lionsgate.
Shock Till You Drop: Since youre something of a pioneer/godfather with POV and Found Footage, do you approach it with abandon?
Eduardo Sanchez: A little bit. Its not really from the idea that we did Blair Witch, its more coming to terms, as a filmmaker, with what youre doing. Also, just kind of not beating yourself up too much. I never thought that I would make another found footage movie after Blair Witch. I dont think any of us thought that anybody would make another found footage movie after we did Blair Witch, but it definitely caught on.
The biggest thing for me, as a filmmaker, was is it right to go back? Once we made the decision to go found footage, it actually became very clear that it should be found footage. The more we thought about it and broke down the idea that Bigfoot is actually kind of a found footage superstar, really. The only time it was reportedly seen is somebodys found footage. Once we made that decision, it was like, Wow, we shouldve made that call a long time ago. If Im going to go back and do another found footage movieI was part of the team that did Blair Witch, so I knew there was going to be, not expectations or whatever, but there was going to be scrutinyjust needed a good reason to do it.
Shock: The opening is a bit more playful than most Found Footage. Its in slow motion, its dreamy.
Sanchez: And theres music, which is kind of controversial [laughs]. We shot Exists and then we went right into production on the short film we did for V/H/S/2. We finished V/H/S/2, its a much shorter film, we were done with our part in a couple of months. That movie came out before we were finished with Exists and it was interesting seeing the reactions and how open people were with the fact that the movies in V/H/S/2 have music.
When we did Blair Witch, it was all about realism. It was all about, there cant be any shot of this movie that cant be completely explained logically. Even edits, we were very careful about that. Doing V/H/S/2 and even watching V/H/S, I thought Wow, this is really the next generation of found footage I just thought that we could push the envelope a little bit. Its a movie, its definitely found footage, but its an action movie, a monster movie. Theres music, the sound is 5.1. Its definitely a film.
There was a little trepidation as far as, how far can you take found footage. At the same time, I was cool with the idea of pushing the boundaries a bit. Just doing something fun and making sure that it wasnt about making it look a lot of found footage movies depend on the idea that its supposed to be found footage, its supposed to be real. That idea of it being real is pretty lost on the audience. The audience knows its not real. Theres a freedom to that.
Shock: The film really plays with both kinetic found footage style and the kind of banality of evil in static shots of death.
Sanchez: Its very innocuous, its like surveillance footage. I think thats the beauty of this style, the visual element that you can use to really convey complex ideas. It just kind of comes across as second nature because people are used to seeing these kinds of images every day in their lives. These kinds of angles, theres a language there that I think found footage hasto a certain extenthelped develop a little bit, but probably mostly reality TV has helped develop. You can say a lot more. Its a subtler way of conveying these deeper meanings.
Shock: Theres something in your films about our, and likely your, relationship with nature. Bigfoot isnt a cold killer, per se. Its disturbed by the cast.
Sanchez: Yeah. Youre going into this creatures territory and at the beginning, we kind of hint at the idea that the forest has been burned down. Humans are the ones that light forest fires. Its not like a bears grill topples and he starts a forest fire. So, the whole idea that humans are burning down where it lives, but also fighting over its kid, and just going into its territory without a thought in the world as to the impact youre going to have on this creatures environment. It was very important that the creature not come across as a killing machine. Even though I think Jaws is probably the greatest monster movie ever, theres no character arc to that shark [laughs]. Its a killing machine, thats what makes it scary.
A lot of the monster movies that I loved as a kid, King Kong and Frankenstein, there was always a human element to the creature. You kind of pity the creature, or at least relate to what the creatures going through. It was very important for me to convey that in this movie. Whether you believe in Bigfoot or notI definitely believed when I was a kidit was always about making this creature as real as possible and treating it like a real creature.
Shock: Is Exists the Bigfoot believers movie of choice?
Sanchez: I dont have my hand on the pulse of that, really. I definitely have a lot of Facebook friends and have done interviews with cryptozoology groups. I think they dig the idea I made this movie for them. Im a Bigfoot geek, and even though Ive never gone out searching. I had yet to see a Bigfoot movie that really got it right, or respected the creature enough to try to get it right; not be about exploiting the fact that this creature is strong and ripping peoples heads off. It was about creating something that felt real. The best monster movies are the ones that reveal truths about ourselves.
As far as the reaction, I think they are digging it. They appreciate the fact the creatures not just a killing machine and theres a heart there. Thats the thing about Bigfoot: its half human, and its definitely got a lot of human traits. Its a relative of ours. Its a distant, evolutionary relative of ours, an offshoot that didnt make it. A lot loved the way the creature looks, which is why I made the film. Bigfoot is a practical creature, there was never an option to do CG. I wanted the characters to see the creature. I wanted the creature to be there.