Pursuit of a Legend (2010)
Pursuit of a Legend is surprisingly good. Those fresh to the horror sub-genre of “found footage” will thoroughly enjoy this, but those used to the format will find it mostly formulaic and distinctly unsurprising. Featuring some solid central performances and genuine scares, this is well worth seeking out.
In 2003 Justin and Carter Wells walked into the Widjigo Woods to make a documentary on Bigfoot and were never seen again. The authorities scoured the woods and eventually found their video camera. It contained footage of their final days… and this film is it.
Pursuit of a Legend is the name of the Wells brothers’ documentary television series they had hoped to develop. Justin is a camera operator and Carter is a cryptozoologist, a job that involves studying mythical and legendary creatures. Having heard rumours of a Sasquatch (a Bigfoot, fact fans) living in the woods, they set off to see if they can catch him on camera. Sadly this is a case of “be careful what you wish for” when they find out something strange is certainly living in the woods… and it’s very very angry.
Found footage films traditionally fail to create likeable characters (see The Blair Witch Project, Welcome to the Jungle, Paranormal Activity etc…); probably because film-makers believe that obvious flaws make fictional characters more realistic. They don’t – they make them more unwatchable and horribly unsympathetic. This character-fail is also to do with giving actors free reign to improvise, which ends up with an arrogance-fuelled quest to gain more screen-time than everyone else.
Luckily, Pursuit of a Legend has two likeable leads, the amiable Steffen Dziczek and Chris Cantelmi. Although the brothers are horribly ill-prepared (no satellite phone, a tent they’ve never used before, not a single gun) they are loveable characters containing spirit, drive and a sense of humour. I was genuinely surprised to find out Pursuit of a Legend is Dzczek and Cantelmi’s first foray into acting – they’re very convincing and compelling leads.
The usual niggles from many “found footage” films has been lessened also – the camera doesn’t shake annoyingly, the characters are genuinely likeable and it doesn’t become utterly ridiculous towards the end. It’s subtly done and the constant unseen enemy is tremendously creepy. The cut-in interviews of family, friends and witnesses also makes it more convincing than most. It does not, however, break any new ground and rarely surprises – it feels like a safe choice of movie to make, but it is well executed.
There are moments of genuine terror in Pursuit of a Legend, and always at night. When darkness falls, the power of the forest is palpable; odd shapes shift in the black, weird sounds echo around them and rocks are thrown at their camp. All this is spooky and disconcerting, but when parts of a decimated deer cascade down on their tent things begin to get really disturbing.
Apart from the lack of originality, there are very few faults with Pursuit of a Legend. It does seem odd how an eight foot tall hairy beast can go undetected in the snowy daylight and the pacing occasionally sags at the beginning, but these are minor issues. The scares are genuine and well shot, Michael Shane Leighton’s direction is smart and sharp, Marc Leighton’s script is subtle and intelligently created and even the characters’ motivations are clear and believable.
Where many found footage films fail to give legitimate reasons for people to stay in one place (Paranormal Activity – get out of the house, you morons!) within Pursuit of a Legend it’s actually acceptable that the brothers continue on their hunt, even after the shower of deer bits terrifies everyone. They stay because it’s a personal project and that actual documented proof of a Sasquatch’s existence would be a historical find. It’s a foolish move, but not completely devoid of logic.
Pursuit of a Legend is not the best “found footage” horror film ever made and it’s certainly far from the worst (that would be Welcome to the Jungle), but it’s a decent addition to a bloated sub-genre of horror. Despite the occasional pacing hiccough, Pursuit of a Legend is an enjoyable, scary and compelling horror film.
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