Unlike the majority of films to ride the lucrative “handheld” wave that has flooded horror since Blair Witch and more recently Paranormal Activity, The Lost Coast Tapes actually holds its own as an enjoyable addition to a painfully tired sub-genre. Avoiding the now predictable “students in an abandoned whatever” or “campers investigate bumps in the night” the film makes the legend of Bigfoot its focus with its tongue very nearly in its cheek. The story follows an investigative journalist, his cameraman, a sound guy, and a producer who journey to Northern California’s “Lost Coast” to create a documentary around a hunter who claims to have the body of an actual Sasquatch. As night falls and the crew settle into the hunter’s small compound in the heart of the forest they discover the truth behind they legend of Bigfoot.
From the second the camera kicks into gear, it’s impressive how well-scripted the dialogue is. A snappy engrossing pace builds around an opening which sees the last loose ends of the pre-production wrapped: the funding is collected, a last minute drop-out is replaced, and then it’s on the road. The rest of the film creeps forward in a suitable foreboding tone, rarely does the film reach a truly taught atmosphere but it’s still pretty enjoyable to watch if only to find out what the fuck is going on. Sometimes the pace is lost and there are short sequences of boredom, but in the grand scheme of the film these exist to protect the anonymity of the subject. A blatant assault from Bigfoot (plural being Bigfeet? Bigfoots?) or proof of hoax would shake the audience out of the film’s most important function: mystery. The brains of the film lie in successfully hoodwinking the audience right up until the end.
Some of the dialogue pops the bubble in a big way. Kevin’s (Noah Weisberg) entire character threatens to pull the film into the murky depths of some mystery black comedy that it just shouldn’t be going for. His bumbling leaves the rest of the cast looking like they are working on a separate film. Similarly Frank Ashmore’s Mr Drybeck seems laughably dramatic, wandering out of the woods to deliver a lone hunter performance right out of the horror canon. His potentially wobbly slice of cheesy brooding thankfully simmers down, devolving from sideways glances and long pauses to a more subtle performance that actually makes him the most enjoyable person to watch on screen.
As for the actual Bigfoot? It’s surprising that the concept of a nine-foot throwback trundling around in the forest is actually particularly unnerving. Incredibly subtle shadow-play goes a long way here. Blink-and-you’ll miss-it moments are rewarding and far creepier than the all-out approach. The sightings are unfortunately too few and a real sense of menace isn’t properly achieved until the last fifteen minutes which throws everything in the air and lets the characters race around on the verge of breakdown. A hard-hitting climax shows that the director can deal with fast-pace mayhem, but leaves us wishing he’d pulled more moments like it earlier on.
Earlier on I mentioned tongue and cheek, but it’s firm direction, well-crafted dialogue, and good acting that ensures the film doesn’t spiral into a childish mess. Some dud ideas and a lack of enough going on stop the film being consistently good, thankfully the finale leaves the piece in good stead.