This weekend “Paranormal Activity 4” opens, the latest in the phenomenally successful found-footage series about ghosts who primarily concern themselves with opening closet doors very slowly. But there’s another found footage opus opening on Friday, one with more monstrous concerns. “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes,” is, for most of its running time at least, a nifty little horror movie about a group of seriously unlikable filmmakers who go into northern California’s Lost Coast, a hotbed for Bigfoot sightings, to investigate claims that a man has an intact Sasquatch body. The problem is that, when it should really bring it, “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” drops the ball, resulting in a finale more enraging than terrifying.
“Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” starts out like most found-footage movies, with characters quickly established, along with the loose skeletal framework of the plot. Sean (Drew Rausch, with a velvety radio host voice), a disgraced investigative journalist, borrows $75,000 to pay a man who claims to have a body of a Bigfoot. He brings along his cohort Darryl (Rich McDonald) and his super-hot ex-girlfriend/producer Robyn (Ashley Wood). After a weirdly meta scene where Sean tries to convince his usual soundman (who is African American) to come along, the soundman, stating the black man’s place in horror movies, convinces Sean to use Kevin (Noah Weisberg), a distinctly nebbish Jew. Sean is convinced that the evidence is a hoax, and that they will be able, with their brief visit, to establish it as such, although that makes little sense from a plot standpoint, as Sean and Darryl are trying to turn their woodsy adventure into a major network series. If they establish it’s a hoax, wouldn’t that be it?
Anyway, they meet the man with the body, a backwoods survivalist and philosopher named Drybeck (Frank Ashmore, speaking in a folksy growl that borders on mesmerizing), who forces them to abandon their cell phones and wear burlap sacks on their heads until they’re out to his cabin. This would be a clear warning signal to anyone who wasn’t in a movie, and coming so soon after the scene where several characters discuss the fate of black people in horror movies, seems out of place and naïve. When they go out to the cabin, Drybeck tries to explain some of the theories surrounding the sheer number of reported Bigfoot sightings in the area, but Sean, ever the pompous asshole, shuts him down. This first section of the movie climaxes with a literal story around a campfire, as Drybeck recounts the first time he ever saw one of the mystical creatures. Then things get spooky.
Noises thunder throughout the woods, trees inexplicably snap in half and are thrown on a generator that powers a protective, electrified fence, and everyone runs around very, very scared. It’s effective use of the found-footage format and does much to make Bigfoot scary again, especially after the recent exposure of the famous Bigfoot footage, as a hoax. (In this movie, in one of its more brilliant moments, they actually stage a sequence in a spot that looks eerily similar to where that famous footage was shot.) The next day after the “attack” (or whatever it was), Drybeck takes off in the truck, leaving the team stranded and looking for answers (and monsters).
Things definitely hit a lull around here, and don’t rebound until the last act, only to fall apart again. One of the problems with the movie is that our characters are so unlikable. Sometimes, in these movies, this works – the hipster douche-bags in “Cloverfield,” for instance, symbolically amplifying the self-obsession (particularly with technology) of most twenty-somethings, oblivious even while a “Godzilla“-style monster is rampaging around – but here we’re desperate for any kind of emotional connection. The closest thing we get is Wood’s Robyn, but for half the movie she’s trying to psychically gauge the forest or lighting candles for extra spiritual oomph, so by the time we’re supposed to care about her, she’s more woodland nymph than human being. Most of the time, though, the audience is stuck with Sean looking at evidence that clearly suggest some kind of boogen but instead saying, “Look, this is a hoax!”
There are some creepily effective sequences, though, and the plot definitely keeps you intrigued, if only because the filmmakers (director Corey Grant and co-writers Bryan O’Cain and Brian Kelsey) play things so close to the vest. When Drybeck shows up in the last act and says, “We are going to see the body!” we involuntarily pumped our fist in approval. Finally, let’s see some fucking monsters! Except that doesn’t really happen. For some reason, the last act is also saddled with a bizarre new subplot – that the Bigfoot monsters are actual “forest spirits” that exist in this world and the next, protecting us from something even more evil. It might be aliens or some other kind of extra-dimensional villain, and while this is an intriguing concept, it’s also shopworn territory (if it’s appeared on both “Futurama” and “Ancient Aliens,” then you know shit’s played out), and needed an extra big bit of oomph to really carry it through. There’s some extra spookiness in the movie’s last few minutes, and a shocking bit of violence that makes the whole thing more dark and disturbing, but it’s too little, too late. All the atmospheric eeriness in the world doesn’t make up for the fact that this movie has little-to-no actual follow-through. Bigfoot is in the title – why isn’t he in the movie? [C]