Willow Creek, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, is a "found footage" film about a young couple entering the deep, dark woods in search of the elusive sasqua-
WAIT, COME BACK!
Yes, Willow Creek is a horror film directed by a quirky comedian. And yes, you're thinking it sounds like just another Blair Witch clone, but you'd only be half right. I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't follow the blueprints of its predecessors to a T, but considering the fact that "found footage" actually relies on simplicity, it seems only fitting. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? What sets Willow Creek apart from the rest is not its ideas, but a great cast and a firm grasp on the roots of the sub-genre.
On October 20th 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin set out to make a Bigfoot documentary in the wilderness of northern California and emerged with footage of an ape-like creature that shocked the world. Now known as the Patterson-Gimlin film, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon, spawning books, movies, reality TV shows and heated debates among laymen and scientists alike for years on end. Hoax or not, its power was undeniable, and Willow Creek's Jim (Bryce Johnson) was certainly not immune. Obsessed with the mysterious creature since he was 8 years old, Jim decides to film his own expedition to the location of the Patterson-Gimlin film, much to the chagrin of his tag-along girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), who thinks the existence of Bigfoot is about as believable as the existence of leprechauns.
The first half of the film acts as a mere setup, allowing us to get a good feel for the two leads as they explore the local towns, partaking in tourist attractions and interviewing citizens about their beliefs and supposed Bigfoot encounters. Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore take a very relaxed approach to their roles, providing a realistic atmosphere missing from most other films of its kind. Instead of whiny and unbearable, they're interesting and relatable. Once the couple enter the woods and the horror begins, one would expect a shift in tone, but Willow Creek remains surprisingly collected and in complete control.
There is one scene late in the film where the couple wake up in their tent in the dead of night, a mixture of sounds coming from somewhere in the distance. At first, it's just a subtle curiosity; footsteps, perhaps; the click-clack of wood banging together. The camera, set up inside the tent, is focused on the young couple, cocking their heads back and forth, listening and wondering. While most directors would have let this scene last no more than 2 minutes before cutting away to a hideous creature, director Bobcat Goldthwait let's it go on—and on and on—leaving me impressed, and yes, even frightened.
Willow Creek treads very familiar ground in its short 80 minute running time, yet remains one of the better examples of genre filmmaking to come along in a while. Managing to both wink at the audience and take the subject matter seriously, the result is a subtly humorous and unsettling horror tale likely to keep you far away from the woods.