Willow Creek Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
DVD released by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
2013, 80 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 26th May 2013
Alexie Gilmore as Kelly
Bryce Johnson as Jim
The multi-talented Bobcat Goldthwait has left a recognizable footprint in each of his eclectic and diverse pursuits over the past two decades. Having excelled in stand-up comedy and undertaken the role of Zed in the Police Academy series, Goldthwait's foray into the directorial hot-seat has given a platform for his acerbic black comedy to prosper with the likes of God Bless America (2011) and World's Greatest Dad (2009).The found footage Bigfoot horror, Willow Creek, represents somewhat of a thematic departure for the American, one that we welcome with open arms.
Willow Creek ratchets up the tension with a stomping blend of unrivalled authenticity, eminently realistic character dynamics and a slow burning transition of fear that is both unsettling and perfectly paced. Inspired by the infamous Patterson-Gimlin footage in 1967, we follow a couple's determined efforts to film a documentary on the legend of Sasquatch by visiting Bluff Creek itself in the Trinity National Forest in California. While Jim (Bryce Johnson) is an adamant believer in the urban legend, his partner Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is a skeptic and doubts the existence of such folklore. It is this collision of belief principles that spins an intricate web around the relationship. Must we see a monster to believe in it? Do we have to experience divine intervention to believe in God? It is this blazing dichotomy that adds spark to every shaky frame.
The legend of Bigfoot grows as the pair traipses around the local surroundings and engages with the community of Bluff Creek. In a series of conflicting interviews with local townsfolk; we meet the skeptics, the believers and even those who have experienced direct confrontations with the beast. In a series of troubled anecdotal recollections, the couple learns of a dog being butchered on a local hunting trip and the sighting of the monster in broad daylight. There are dedicated songs, restaurants and even a celebratory museum in dedication. Each frame lends itself to amplifying the myth. Even those who doubt, do so with a vehement glare and dismissive tone which does little to deter Jim from furthering his exploration. Before their descent into the darkened woods, the couple is faced with intimidating and aggressive orders urging them to refrain from venturing into the Creek and leave the area immediately. Despite Kelly's insistence to heed their warnings and disappear, Jim is driven to reaching his goal.
As the couple enters the woods, the likenesses to Myrich and Sanchez's The Blair Witch Project (1999) intensify. Strictly speaking, there is nothing in Willow Creek's premise that hasn't been done before. The fear of the unknown underpins Goldthwait's accumulation of suspense; although effective, there is no shying away that this is a tried and tested blend of horror in familiar surroundings using a maligned medium. That being said, the excruciatingly long and suspenseful tent scene is nothing short of remarkable. Following a disastrous marriage proposal, Jim and Kelly are entrapped in confined boundaries as they are tormented by growls and strange sounds from deep within the forest. These get louder, closer and contribute towards a nerve shredding experience. A fusion of terrific acting and masterful direction crowns this episode as Willow Creek's legacy.
Although the pay-off doesn't match the level of tension built during the course of the film, Willow Creek is a welcome arc back to pure character-driven horror. It is also testament to the power of the found footage medium IF used correctly. Goldthwait's horror debut sits proudly alongside The Borderlands and Afflicted in breathing new life into a sub-genre that has become maligned due to falling victim of misuse and corrosive saturation. Whether this represents a new dawn for the medium remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, sleeping in a tent will never feel the same again...