Myth: Busted, by Tyler Smith
It would be very easy for me to blame the fact that Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes isn’t very good on it being yet another found footage film. It seems with every new found footage movie I see, I find myself wishing that they had simply made a normal film with a traditional narrative. Surely, most of these movies don’t actually need this gimmick; they simply employ it because it is both popular and technically expedient. A filmmaker that doesn’t have a lot of faith in his special effects can try to cover them with the jittery subjective camera work of a found footage movie. And Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes certainly fits this description. Its simple story- of a young group of mythbusters out to investigate a possible Bigfoot hoax and getting more than they bargained for- could easily work within the usual framework.
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be thinking this is the film had managed to sell the found footage conceit. In theory, found footage is fairly easy. The execution, however, is what makes all the difference. To make a movie like this means walking a tightrope between subjectivity and distance; between improvisational and structured. We need to see clear character arcs while never feeling the artificiality that can come with them. There can be an immediacy to found footage that makes us feel like we’re right in the middle of the action, while always being reminded that we are watching the impending doom of the characters from a nice, safe distance.
The gold standard for this is The Blair Witch Project, which maintained such a sense of realism that some in the theater were under the impression that it was real. Admittedly, this was the story pushed by the studio, but the execution of the film made it seem eerily plausible. If a studio told us that the footage from Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes was real, people would simply shake their heads.
These don’t seem like real characters to me. Their lines are too obviously scripted. They fall into the basic horror archetypes too easily. The improvisational quality that is so vital to this genre is almost completely absent here. From the very beginning, when our main character presents himself with a specific arrogance and swagger, I didn’t feel like I was watching somebody that could actually exist, but was instead watching a character type. The addition of the standard “scared guy” doesn’t help matters. The very fact that there is a whole character that embodies a single characteristic speaks to the implausibility of the film. Tell me; who was “the scared one” in The Blair Witch Project? They all seemed pretty scared at times, while brave at others. They were philosophical in some moments, then playful. In short, they were real people. They couldn’t be boiled down.
As our heroes venture into the woods of Northern California, things just get worse. Because we are then treated to the mountain man who seems to know all about the habits and traits of the sasquatch. While he is admirably played by Frank Ashmore, the character is a little too… well, “Quint-y” is the only word I can think of to describe him. He is a simple, yet enigmatic man whose obsession with his quarry comes through in ominous anecdotes and warnings. He is by far the most interesting character in the film, but at no point did I ever feel like this man could actually exist. He may be the most watchable character, but he is only ever that: a character.
I realize that I’m starting to repeat myself, and perhaps there are those that would consider my objections a little nitpicky. But when a filmmaker chooses to make a found footage movie, his first goal should be to make this all feel real. That is precisely what makes these movies so creepy when done well. We don’t believe in witches or Bigfoot, but the documentary feeling of the film makes it seem so damned plausible. The world has to seem like the one we inhabit every day, and it needs to be filled with people that we feel like we could meet while going to the bank.
By the end of the film, when the usual chaotic beats are being hit, I found that I just didn’t care what was going on. I have a hard enough time investing in stock characters in a traditional horror movie, but when they’re supposed to be real, I lose all interest. So, by the time the arrogant main character stares off-screen and declares, “It’s not a Bigfoot,” shortly before the film ends, my first question- instinctively- was, “Well, then, what is it?” Then, upon the smash cut to black, the second question popped into my head.
“Who gives a shit?”