Movie Review: Willow Creek

Willow Creek
Written & Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

I generally shy away from reviewing works of fiction here on the blog, but I had to make an exception in this case, mainly due to the subject matter: a found footage Bigfoot film. One of my guilty pleasures is watching found footage horror movies. I loved “The Blair Witch Project,” and felt it was a nice reprieve from the typical slasher or torture porn films the genre usually foists upon us. Following its success, plenty of other found footage movies were produced in its wake, and I’ve watched a great deal of them on Netflix. Most are pretty awful, but I enjoy them despite their (usually severe) shortcomings, with my favorites so far being “Paranormal Activity” and “Grave Encounters.” The rest have mainly been badly acted and formulaic, and in the best case scenarios, unintentionally hilarious (e.g., “The Amityville Haunting”). But most of the films in the genre have been about ghosts and to a lesser extent, aliens, so I was excited to hear about a film like this featuring my favorite cryptid. It should also be noted that one of the creative minds behind “The Blair Witch Project,” Eduardo Sanchez, has a found footage Bigfoot film coming out soon, called “Exists.” I guess Bobcat beat him to the punch, though. But there has been a lot of buzz lately about “Willow Creek,” and when I heard it had finally opened here in New York City, I had to give it a look. So I headed to the IFC Center in NYC on Tuesday night with my girl to see what the buzz was all about. Minor spoilers ahead…

Willow Creek Movie Review
So…camping should be fun this year…

I originally heard about “Willow Creek” a little over a year ago. And the first thing I remember hearing about the film was that it was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the screaming, twitching stand-up comedian. Naturally, I thought the movie was going to be a comedy or spoof of older Bigfoot films, such as “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” And while the movie is very funny in spots, I assure you it is no comedy. The movie revolves around a guy named Jim (Bryce Johnson), who is hoping to investigate Bluff Creek, and his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), who is along with Jim to help him document his trip on camera as his birthday present. Bluff Creek, as is explained fairly early on, is the creek in California where the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage was shot, and to this day it is one of the most highly debated pieces of Bigfoot evidence ever. On the drive there, the lovers bicker and banter, as couples do, and Kelly is shown to be a skeptic about the whole Sasquatch thing. The couple ends up in Willow Creek, a town near Bluff Creek and steeped in Bigfoot pride and culture, with everything from Bigfoot statues, Bigfoot burgers and even a Bigfoot hotel. Locals are interviewed, songs are sung, and in a very funny bit, a local Bigfoot mural is made fun of. And Jim spends a lot of time trying to convince Kelly to hike into the woods of Six Rivers National Forest with him to find Bluff Creek.

Honestly, the movie crawls along here in the beginning and middle. The actors do a great job of making you like and connect with the characters. The dialogue seems natural, the humor seems spontaneous, and the location filming is beautiful (though I fear that now I’ll never get my girlfriend to go to the Pacific Northwest with me…ever). But we, as an audience, are conditioned to expect certain things from found footage movies, and we don’t really get that here. There is some foreshadowing, some insider winks to people familiar with Bigfoot lore, some creepy stories told by the locals, but nothing really scary. No gradual ramping-up of any real tension of any kind. Goldthwait expertly eases the viewer into a state of calm relaxation, which just makes what happens later all the more impactful. And cruel. Because just when you think this may end up being a dud of a horror movie, the couple heads into the woods.

Now I don’t want to spoil anything, but this being a found footage movie and all, you can probably figure out that things don’t really go well once Jim and Kelly get into the woods. In one of the most tense, creepy scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, there is a 20-minute single-take sequence where Jim and Kelly are in their tent on their first night in the wilderness dealing with…well, let’s just say some truly fucked up shit. There is no real dialogue, just two people terrified in a tent reacting to what is occurring, and it is claustrophobically amazing. “The Blair Witch Project” required viewers to use their imaginations for chills, and this sequence just ratchets up that intensity. There are no camera edits. No moments of rest or sleep for our poor main characters. It’s just a wonderfully spooky sequence, and everyone in the theater with us was nervously groaning in sympathy for the characters (I heard my fair share of people saying “Oh damn…” and “Hell no!” and my personal favorite, “Nope nope nope nope!”). I feel like the movie, for this scene alone, is worth the price of admission.

Goldthwait himself has called this film “The Blair Squatch Project,” and the influence of that film definitely comes through. At times, the flow of the story or key moments felt very derivative of “The Blair Witch Project.” Perhaps they are homages, but I felt like one moment in particular was too on the nose, and almost cringe-worthy. But Goldthwait, who is apparently genuininely interested in Bigfoot, treats the mythos with respect and an eye for accuracy (there’s a quick mention of Albert Ostman, which most people will probably either not catch or not understand). Bottom line, this was an excellent horror film, and is well worth tracking down. If it is not playing in your area, it probably soon will be. But if you can’t wait, you can get it on Amazon and  iTunes. If you like found footage movies and love Bigfoot, you won’t be disappointed.

Jim and Kelly hiding from Bigfoot in Willow Creek

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