Another found footage movie.
This is the thought that popped in my head when I first heard of Willow Creek. The subgenre is so drained, so glutted by now that any movie that announces itself as one is automatically assumed to be trite and clichéd and done before.
Well Willow Creek is definitely all of that, but it’s also none of that.
If you’ve seen The Blair Witch Project you have a really good idea of what’s happening, albeit with a different unseen threat. A couple comes to Willow Creek, California, site of the infamous footage that Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin captured of what many claim to be a Sasquatch, or Bigfoot. They are going to hike into the woods to try and capture their own Bigfoot footage. They soon find themselves at the mercy of something way beyond what they expected.
Very similar stories, but what director Bobcat Goldthwait does here (in a big departure from his usual biting satirical comedy) is do everything just a little bit better than it’s predecessor. In the process, he crafts what is one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long while, maybe since Blair Witch itself. He carries the torch left behind by Blair Witch and proves that found footage done right is still a force to be reckoned with and scarier than anything mainstream Hollywood is putting out.
Goldthwait’s name attached to this is the most head-scratching thing about it, but early on you can tell it’s him behind the lens. The satire here is much more subtle than his earlier movies, but it’s still present, as lead character Jim interviews an array of different personalities in the town about Bigfoot. Most of the town has capitalized on the legend and their place in it, with carvings and murals and a Bigfoot Café. We see how urban myths (although this is in the woods so – rural myth?) can form a certain idea about an area or creature and affect people very strongly.
The satire isn’t the only thing that’s subtle. Clues permeate the first half of the movie, which is a substantial part of it. Mixed in with all the Bigfoot songs and wild theories are some chilling stories and mixed warnings. But of course, Jim pays no attention to this, or the waning patience of his girlfriend Kelly. He wants to find Bigfoot.
Whether he does or not is completely up to you. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
In keeping with the callbacks to Blair Witch, we certainly have the slow burn portion, but when they get to the woods, Bobcat again shifts your expectations. Whereas the majority of the slow burn in Blair Witch came once they got out to the woods, and the tension escalated each night as creepier and creepier phenomenon began to occur, here he frankly says “fuck that.” What transpires is one of the best shots in any horror movie, a nearly 20-minute take that is a master class in escalating tension, and really proves the power of the genre if taken seriously. There are no cuts – why would there be? So for 20 minutes you are in the tent with Jim and Kelly, unable to escape as someone or something accosts their tent. It’s as psychologically affecting as anything I’ve seen in a long time, a marvelous horror achievement of sound design and solid acting that is proof that found footage can still be as terrifying as anything with the simple power of suggestion.
The climax here comes much swifter than Blair Witch, as when the creepy stuff starts it doesn’t really ever stop. The feeling of hopelessness, so key in a “lost in the woods” movie, is incredibly thick, and becomes downright depressing as you realize how unprepared they were. Upon repeat viewings, another level of satire becomes apparent. Jim is a product of our time, a person so unaware of his naivety and so assured in his arrogance that their plight is not surprising whatsoever. He is unprepared for the environment he finds himself in, and his girlfriend Kelly becomes increasingly aggravated as she becomes aware of his ignorance. It’s a brilliant slant – the stupidity of the characters isn’t bad writing, it’s the point.
All of this leads to a true hair-raiser of an ending, one that asks more questions than it answers. It’s as open-ended an ending as one can have, and it’ll keep you talking about it in the hours after finishing it. Needless to say, the seeds planted throughout the beginning all make sense towards the end, and it’s really up to you to decide what happened to the couple. Feel free to discuss it in the comments if you’ve seen it, and I’ll chime in on what I think happened.
Have another beer for your nerves. You’ll need it, especially after that tent scene.
Subtlety like this doesn’t happen every so often, let alone from the guy who made God Bless America. It encourages repeat viewings and maintains its creepiness every time. If you’re looking for a scary Bigfoot movie, you’ve found one, as well as the scariest found footage movie since The Blair Witch Project first made us question the authenticity of what we were seeing. The subgenre has slowly let production value creep in, assuring us that yes, Hollywood made it and it’s not real. Willow Creek brings it back to its roots, with a believable and terrifying entry that will have you pondering if the legend of Bigfoot really is just that.
Take a Drink: anytime you notice Kelly is annoyed.
Take a Drink: anytime you realize that Jim doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Take a Drink: anytime you’re not sure whether the noise is a Sasquatch or something else.
Take a Drink: anytime you feel your heartbeat elevating.
And if you really wanna get drunk…
Do a Shot: anytime Jim talks to the camera.