It must be hard for some people to reconcile ‘Bobcat Goldthwait the director’ with ‘Bobcat Goldthwait the comedian’. A man known to most of the world for his high-pitched, shrieking comedy hardly seemed like a good match for ‘serious indie director’. The thing is though, he makes it so bloody easy to accept when his directorial output is at such a high standard. Both ‘Worlds Greatest Dad‘ and ‘God Bless America‘ were left-of-field surprises for me; two films that pushed buttons that more mainstream comedy and satire didn’t seem willing to reach for. Flawed? Sure, but there was a real confidence in the man that gives them the edge they have. When it was announced his next film was going to be a horror, I was delighted – he seemed like the perfect director to bring some fresh ideas to the found footage genre. So how does Willow Creek hold up against the rest of the sub genre?
Willow Creek follows Jim (Bryce Johnson) on his quest to find and film the original ‘Bigfoot’ sighting area – where the big hairy fella was spotted in the infamous Paterson-Gimlin film. In tow is his camera and girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), and the events unfold in the usual found footage manner; local subjects are interviewed, stories told, and warnings not heeded. When the pair do finally get to the site, things take a turn for the scary – something big seems to be stalking their movements, and it begins to turn hostile that night. Is it the mythical Bigfoot? Or is it the aggressive locals who didn’t want them their in the first place?
Naysayer’s on the ‘found footage’ sub genre are unlikely to be won over by Willow Creek, but those who enjoy the slow burn chills that its best films have to offer will no doubt find much to be satisfied with. Things take a long time to get going (it’s nearly 45 minutes into a relatively short film before they even get to the woods), and how much enjoyment you take from it will largely depend on how much you like the two leads. Both Jim and Kelly are kept on the right side of likable and realistic, having the sort of conversations, petty arguments and silences you would expect from a real couple. While Jim is written to be a joker, he never becomes obnoxious or irritating in the way that other films miss the mark. Both Johnson and Gilmore do a fine job at natural humour and timing – Gilmore especially – and it helps lend a believability to the terror in the final stages of the film.
When I say ‘final stages’, I really do mean it: Willow Creek is 77 minutes long, but the horror is contained to the last 20 minutes or so. Much of what works best boils down to one key scene, in which our two leads are woken in the night by strange noises outside their tent. It’s a lengthy scene, with no edits, but the scares are so expertly timed that they really did have me jumping and holding my breath. It’s a shame then that the finale doesn’t deliver more on the terror; it’s abrupt (as always with these kind of films) and scary in its own way, but it just feels a tad safe.
‘Safe’ feels like a terrible word to use to describe a Bobcat Goldthwait film, but it really is its biggest problem. While clearly taking much from The Blair Witch Project, he hasn’t added anything back to it, seemingly happy to just simply be a ‘good found footage film’, without shaking up what has made the genre somewhat stale to begin with. Kudos must be given though for actually making Bigfoot scary again, and for the in-depth look at the mythology and habits of the legendary creature. As someone with a passing interest in the myth, it was great to see that many of the things that occur in the film are traits of Bigfoot sightings, leading me to believe that much time was spent researching. Overall though, I can’t help but feel that I’ve just seen my first disappointing Bobcat film, and that idea itself is more disappointing than the film is.