Lovely Molly (2011)

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three star

I recently had a goofy good time with Blair Witch director Eduardo Sánchez’s found footage Sasquatch movie Exists. I had so much fun with it in fact, that after reviewing the movie I wrote a second article detailing how to play the Exists drinking game. Exists isn’t exactly a laugh riot, but it was the kind of goofy, straight-forward horror flick that’s best served after midnight with a few game friends & a couple cocktails. Knowing nothing of the film’s plot or tone, I foolishly expected a similar experience with Sánchez’s gritty ghost story Lovely Molly. I was way, way off. Exists did nothing to prepare me for the emotional brutality of Lovely Molly. It turns out the cycles of child & substance abuse make for much more disturbing & much less campy horror movie fodder than Bigfoot. Go figure.

Similar to the way Possession turns the real life-horrors of divorce & romantic separation into dangerous, supernatural forces, Lovely Molly makes a monster out of child abuse & heroin addiction. When the titular protagonist and her newlywed husband move into her childhood home, demons of her past rise to the surface and begin to affect the physical world. Molly’s personal confrontations with her history of substance abuse & the hideous details of her youth start small. At first she’s getting stoned with her equally traumatized sister, the two adult women giggling, “I can’t believe we’re smoking weed in Mom’s kitchen.” The drug use escalates from there, as does Molly’s frantic mood as she’s left alone in a space where she used to suffer hellish acts of cruelty. Her husband becomes frustrated, the way loved ones of victims & addicts often do, confessing “I love her. I just don’t know how to help her.” Family, religion, and modern medicine all fail to slow the horror of Molly’s descent into the brutal cycles of abuse. Her sister desperately asks her, “Why did you have to move back into this goddamn house, Molly?” but it’s as if she had no choice. The house has an overwhelming draw for her, which eventually leads to a body-count, supernatural occurrences, and the unconventional use of a screwdriver.

Instead of telling the story entirely in a found footage style (à la Exists or The Blair Witch Project), Sánchez employs a mixture of professional cameras & camcorder footage here. The camcorder footage is mostly used for a chilling atmospheric effect, but still manages to serve the film’s central theme. Molly is compelled to record the horrors of the houses’ ghosts in fear that no one will believe her, which is a terrifying thought, considering her past. The film also uses an intense, roaring sound design to represent threats that cannot be seen, but this isn’t the completely obscured horror of Blair Witch either. Violence, gore, and the like are used sparingly, but effectively as the situation in the house deteriorates. Despite the lackluster acting (Molly’s boss is particularly awful) & limited scope inherent to Sanchez’s low-budget productions, Lovely Molly is a hauntingly disturbing picture. This is far from the goofy midnight movie of Exists, if not only because it portrays a horrifying threat that actually exists.

-Brandon Ledet

How to Play the Exists (2014) Drinking Game

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Yesterday I reviewed the found footage Sasquatch movie Exists, directed by former Blair Witch luminary Eduardo Sánchez. The film is fun, but somewhat campier in premise than in execution, as it takes the threat of the Bigfoot very seriously and plays the material straight. I honestly believe that playing it straight was the right choice and the movie is all the goofier for it (even if Sánchez was aiming to make a serious work). Yesterday I wrote, “Its opening title cards read ‘Since 1967, there have been over 3,000 Bigfoot encounters in the U.S. alone. Experts agree that the creatures are only violent when provoked.’ While some may find this kind of self-serious nonsense to be a huge warning sign, it speaks to me as a fan of schlocky horror. It says to me, “This movie will be silly. Bring liquor.’” And since I recommended that you bring liquor, I guess I should provide you the rules for the Exists drinking game.

As I explained in my review, characters in Exists have a tendency to punctuate each & every sentence with either the word “dude” or “bro”. I even suggested that an alternate title for the film could be The Adventures of Camera Dude & Deer Bro in the honor of the film’s most entertaining characters’ personal preferences for the two words. Camera Dude & Deer Bro are not only the heart of the film; they’re the heart of the drinking game as well.

For a multiplayer experience
Assign each player either to drink every time a character says “dude” or every time a character says “bro”. I did not count how many times each word was uttered, but if I had to guess I’d say whoever gets assigned to “bro” would probably do most of the heavy lifting.

For a single-player experience
Just drink every time you hear the word “bro”. Deer Bro is the most likeable of the two characters so you might as well commemorate every goofy moment you get to spend with him by celebrating his favorite word.

Bonus points
Hell, drink every time you hear “dude” or “bro”. Just because I picked Deer Bro as my favorite doesn’t mean you have to take my word for it, bro. Maybe you’re more of a Camera Dude, dude. Dude, just make sure you remember to hydrate, dude & don’t plan on driving anywhere after the game is done, bro. And dude, watch out for Sasquatches, dude.

As always, play safe, bro!

-Brandon Ledet

Exists (2014)

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three star

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I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly why mainstream critics were so hard on last year’s found footage Sasquatch movie Exists. The movie’s been called everything from “dismally generic” to “aggressively unimaginative” to “fucking stupid”. I’m not saying those claims aren’t at least partly true (especially that last one; the movie is stupid), but dumping this much vitriol on a low budget horror film about Bigfoot feels a lot like punching down. Exists is a straightforward horror cheapie that makes few to no attempts to stray from genre clichés, but does it really deserve to be trashed more than last year’s equally pedestrian (but far more expensive) I, Frankenstein, Annabelle, or Dracula Untold? All three of those films didn’t exactly run up great scores on Metacritic either, but they were mostly brushed off as boring, not spat on as “fucking stupid”.

The best explanation for this vicious critical beating I can come up with is that Exists’ director Eduardo Sánchez was one of the two minds behind the surprise cultural hit The Blair Witch Project. By punishing Sánchez for making a generic, post-Blair Witch found footage horror flick, critics are by extension punishing him for all the other generic found footage horrors we’ve suffered through since Blair Witch’s success over a decade ago. It’s an almost cut & dried case of Schadenfreude. I’m not saying Exists’ straightforward approach to the genre is criticism-proof; I’m just saying that if it weren’t for Blair Witch the film wouldn’t have been deemed worth the time of a lot of these one-to-zero star reviews.

The most common complaint about Exists is what I believe to be its biggest strength: the fact that it plays its material straight. The campy appeal of a found footage Sasquatch movie is silly enough in concept that it would’ve been a huge mistake to adopt a winking, ironic tone to back it up. Exists is fully committed to its genre, for better or for worse. Its opening title cards read “Since 1967, there have been over 3,000 Bigfoot encounters in the U.S. alone. Experts agree that the creatures are only violent when provoked.” While some may find this kind of self-serious nonsense to be a huge warning sign, it speaks to me as a fan of schlocky horror. It says to me, “This movie will be silly. Bring liquor.” When the film’s narrator/camera-operator/resident goofball first becomes aware of the Bigfoot that ruins his vacation in the woods, he drops his sad stabs at comic relief and adopts a serious tone similar to the one in the title cards. He says, “Years ago my uncle saw something out here. Something that freaked him the fuck out. Bad enough that he never came back to this beloved hunting cabin.” The film knows when to be dour & when to be playful. That line is so goofily ludicrous it had to be said with a straight face to work.

Unfortunately, Camera Dude (which I will henceforth call him, since he punctuates nearly every sentence with “dude”) isn’t always as charming as he is there. Mostly, he’s a device. The film’s five protagonists include two cute couples & one hairy hipster bro in a Daniel Johnston t-shirt, our beloved Camera Dude. As a 5th wheel, Camera Dude is free to document the goings on of the cabin trip & subsequent Sasquatch attacks, filming his buddies as they crack wise, swim, sleep (weird), fuck (super weird) and get torn apart by a Sasquatch (thank God). Why exactly is Camera Dude filming every mundane second of his vacation in the woods on his ungodly stockpile of GoPro cameras? To make “The Best YouTube Video Ever”, of course. If this sounds obnoxious, it’s because it is. Camera Dude’s best moments are when he drops the loveable goofball act and tries to convince his buddies that they’re under attack by a Bigfoot. He tells the audience, “I’ve got some GoPros set up all over the forest,” setting up a laughably implausible excuse for the film’s multiple camera angles. Camera Dude eats up a lot of the film’s run time but when he switches from Best YouTube Video Ever mode to Bigfoot Believer mode he becomes a fairly amusing one-dimensional plot device. I also enjoyed that the moment you can tell his spirit is broken is when he’s too sad about his dead friends to smoke weed.

Despite Camera Dude’s attempts to steal the show, Exists’ true comic relief comes from another character: Deer Bro. As the title cards revealed, Sasquatches will not attack unless provoked, so the film needs to set up the five victims’ reason for being hunted by the hairy beast. Borrowing a page from I Know What You Did Last Summer, they strike a Bigfoot with their car early in the film. A few characters are convinced that they clipped a dear, but no, not Deer Bro. He warns them all, “That wasn’t no deer, bro.” As far as terrible characters in horror movies go, Deer Bro is a gem. When he isn’t tossing out an indiscriminate amount of “bro”s with every awkward sentence, he’s claiming he should be in charge of the group’s sole rifle because he plays paintball or he’s accidentally sitting down on his best bro’s broken legs. Classic Deer Bro. If Exists is to be understood as The Adventures of Camera Dude & Deer Bro, Deer Bro is the clear winner as an audience favorite. Every idiotic moment he’s on screen is a gift to schlock lovers everywhere.

Enjoying Exists, much like surviving an encounter with a Sasquatch, requires approaching it the right way. Critics looking for Eduardo Sánchez to justify his fluke success with Blair Witch were wrong to expect anything but a silly trifle out of a found footage Sasquatch movie. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to make a Sasquatch costume 100% menacing. Audiences will always see a little Harry & The Hendersons or Geico Commercial Cavemen in Bigfoot, whether or not he’s crushing skulls & hurling bicycles. As a straightforward B-movie about a Sasquatch attack, Exists is a pleasant enough picture. Its clichéd plot devices about strategically placed GoPro cameras & lack of cellphone reception are excusable as modern horror tropes and the quiet calm of its pacing is much preferable to the shrill panic of other found footage cheapies. It’s far from the most inventive horror film I’ve ever seen, but it’s also far from the worst. As a schlocky genre diversion it’s a fun, inconsequential film. Especially if you focus on the goofy charms of Deer Bro.

-Brandon Ledet