It had been six days since they killed off Prince Oberyn when I found the one thing that could have cheered me up: Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek, his found-footage Bigfoot horror movie released last summer, had finally gotten a release. If you’re on this website, you probably already know enough about a) cryptids or b) indie horror to at least be aware of Willow Creek. If not, then yes, I’m talking about that Bobcat Goldthwait, and apparently the old “smart is funny” formula works backwards, because Willow Creek is a tense, clever film.
Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
The Obligatory Warning: a depressing story about a sasquatch killing a family pet. Bro-level nudity. Naughty words that probably scared off Bigfoot for at least part of the film.
Willow Creek opens in pedestrian found-footage fashion, with a pair of hapless twenty (possibly early thirty)-somethings on their way to make a documentary. Bf and gf Jim and Kelly are trekking to the town of Willow Creek, a real-life pilgrimage site for Bigfoot nuts. While making their documentary, they mostly putter about town and prove why people with video cameras are just plain awful. They also trade the usual talk about relationships, futures, and whether they’re ready to Take This Relationship To The Next Level. Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson are engaging enough, but they don’t really shine until things get scary. This is both fitting and poetically just, because having to listen to millenials discuss their relationship is only properly rectified by dismemberment. Jim and Kelly also visit several actual important figures in the Bigfoot community— a singer/songwriter, a bookstore owner, and a Bigfoot eyewitness among them. The use of actual people is an interesting touch. It shows Goldthwait’s intelligence, and suggests Willow Creek’s overall winking cleverness.
Willow Creek succeeds not just in spite of, but because, it’s a found footage movie. This is surprising because found footage has been done, to death, even more than its varied protagonists. But now, 15 years after Blair Witch popularized the genre, Goldthwait’s revived it by carrying the genre’s logic to its final analysis. Where Blair Witch used shots from a real town (and pissed off its real citizens), Goldthwait’s gone further and included actual Bigfoot experts in the movie. Where BW, and other found footage, took flack for being dull and uneventful, Goldthwait stretches the slow-burn development out to near Alien-levels. There’s even a nineteen-minute single take that should be dull, but is actually the scariest and most immediate scene of the film. Whether Goldthwait intended that scene to be a sort of meta-joke on found footage horror or not, the take’s duration certainly plays with audience expectations. What found footage lacks in slickness or control, it should make up for in immersion and verisimilitude. Jim and Kelly’s harrowing nineteen-minute encounter strips horror down to its essentials— spooky noises and unseen presences— and shows how scary those things, unalloyed, can be. In that sense, Willow Creek is a pleasure for horror fans, and a challenge to anyone who thinks found footage has run its course.
Spoiler time: I’m not sure about what happens in the last scene, but I think that the last figure (corpse?) Kelly and Jim see is the same woman in the missing flyer in the Bigfoot Cafe. If you watch carefully, the body appears to be wearing a horseshoe necklace like the one mentioned in the flyer. I mention this in case anyone’s reading this review because they found their way here while trying to figure out the ending. Also because it should get me street cred. Also, the fact that I slowed the movie down to watch that makes me think I’m even scarier than the Finding Bigfoot cast.
Worth the money? Absolutely if you’re into horror, found footage, or just need a cryptid fix. Even if you hate all three, Willow Creek is still smart enough to be enjoyable.