Bobcat Goldthwait is one of- if not the-most underrated writer/directors working today. He has a unique voice (I mean that literally and figuratively) in the independent film scene. With four films under his belt, he has presented surprisingly thoughtful insight and satire mixed with pitch black comedy (except Shake the Clown, which was a much more straight forward comedy than his later films). Sleeping Dogs Lie is an interesting look at the way honesty can affect a relationship and how your actions in the past can still change how people look at you…by way of bestiality. World’s Greatest Dad is a brilliant film that acts as a clever and thought provoking analysis on the cult of celebrity and the different ways death can affect people, as well as how far one would go to achieve a dream…by way of an incident involving autoerotic asphyxiation. God Bless America is an enjoyable and fascinating insight into society’s obsession with fame and the devolution of modern culture…by way of terminally ill man going on a killing rampage with a psychotic 16 year old girl. Are you noticing a pattern? So, the latest film by Bobcat Goldthwait is…a found footage horror film about Bigfoot?
Willow Creek follows Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore). They are a couple who are travel together to the forest called Willow Creek, a popular location for Bigfoot enthusiasts. Jim is a believer and he plans this trip to retrace the steps of the Patterson-Gimlin footage and perhaps find evidence of the beast. Kelly doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, but tags along anyway to help shoot the footage.
To be able to fully clarify the ways in which the film works, it’s important to understand the type of horror that Bobcat Goldthwait seems to be aiming for. Willow Creek plays out like a slow-burn horror that relies on tension, buildup and a very minimalist set up. The film follows the two leads and no one else. We spend the first hour or so just following them around, seeing some sights and interviewing the locals about Bigfoot. There’s no real sense of danger until much later, to serve as a payoff to the buildup. It’s seems a bit odd for Bobcat Goldthwait to make this film, which is, comparatively, much smaller in scope, ambition and depth. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, sometimes it’s good for a filmmaker to make something small again, but I just can’t help but feel like this is more of a step back for him. This is the kind of film that I would consider to be a solid debut, but not so much as a fifth.
Regardless, there is some seriously admirable craft in the film. Starting from the writing, the characters feel very believable (which is helped by two great performances from the leads), and their motivations and actions remain consistent. Though they aren’t particularly interesting, they’re likable enough to be worth following. Their banter is fun, occasionally humorous and authentic. It’s the believability of the script, along with the bare bones filmmaking that makes the film work as a whole. The only real problem I have with the script is that the buildup feels suddenly introduced. Things don’t start going down big time until the characters spend a night camping (more on this later), but there is hardly any mysterious factor or creepiness beforehand. There’s only one scene before the final act that tries to bring in the creepy factor, so by the time the third act rolls by, the buildup suddenly has to play catch up. Given the short 80 minute running time, an additional 10 minutes or so might have helped in that regard to build up tension as opposed to having a sudden rush to the final act. Also, (and this is a very minor issue) there was a moment at the end that, only after watching the film and doing a bit on research, I realized it was supposed to be a callback to something earlier in the film. The idea is certainly clever, but I thought the delivery could have been clearer.
Though found footage is so commonly used these days, this film uses it effectively. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the use of found footage makes sense for the most part. There are hardly any points where I questioned why the camera was recording at that point, and the characters don’t bend over backwards to force the camera to be used in a scene. The scenes end when it seems necessary, they begin recording when it seems necessary. The film actually works as a solid found footage film, and that’s despite some of the issues that naturally come out of any found footage film. So, I was surprised at how little the typical modern horror habits are mostly tossed aside for this film.
I previously mentioned the scene where the two characters are spending the night camping out. What follows in this scene is what seems like an 18 minute long shot that slowly build up tension from curiosity to absolute dread, and it is handled masterfully. The camera is focused squarely on the two leads and stays in the same angle. We only see them sitting up inside the tent and listening to what might be outside in the woods. The sound mixing in this scene is used to brilliant effect and stands out in an otherwise unimpressive film. It seems that Bobcat Goldthwait used the classic rule of holding back on showing the monster and it makes the film as effective as it is.
Willow Creek doesn’t do anything new or innovative, but the things it does well, it does incredibly well. A solid script, combined with two charming leads and confident direction makes a bizarre concept into something genuinely chilling. The minimalist style will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone who can appreciate good craft will at least come out of the film with one incredibly breathtaking and horrifying sequence that will be remembered for years to come. Though this is probably one of Bobcat Goldthwait’s weakest films, there’s still a lot to admire, and it is interesting to see him deliver a solid horror film. If you’re expecting a rollercoaster ride of a thriller with non-stop scares, then you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment, but if you’re in the mood for a Blair Witch Project throwback that relies on what you don’t see to get under your skin, then this is certainly worth at least one watch.
Side Note: So…Bigfoot movies, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of them. Most people are aware of Harry and the Hendersons, but in terms of horror, Bigfoot seems to be limited to lower budget affair. If you’re in the mood for a Bigfoot horror flick, here are some you might want to check out: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), Abominable (2006), Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes (2012), The Wildman of the Navidad (2009) and Snowbeast (1977). You’d think with a legend as well-known as Bigfoot, more writers would take advantage.