To some people Bobcat Goldthwait is still the strange voiced guy from Police Academy, to others he’s a cult stand-up, and to some he’s become a bit of a fascinating director. His projects have ranged from the countercultural, such as God Bless America, to the mainstream, like World’s Greatest Dad, but few expected him to have a go at a found footage horror.
In the last few year found footage films have gone from something people seemed to love to a subgenre that’s more likely to get someone rolling their eyes than hiding behind their fingers. After all, for every Paranormal Activity we’ve had five Paranormal Activity 4s, with just the occasional highlight such as Chronicle. Willow Creek sits somewhere in the middle. It’s far from dreadful, but neither is it anything to particularly write home about.
The film’s found footage conceit is that a couple, Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), are making a documentary about Bigfoot. Well, at least believer Jim is, while Kelly is along for the trip even though she thinks Sasquatch is a load of nonsense. After interviewing a few of the locals in an area famed for Bigfoot sightings, they head off into the woods to the place where one of the most famous encounters took place.
However, before they can get close a redneck blocks their path and tries to stop them going any further. Is he one of the vicious pot farmers Jim and Kelly have been told lurk in the middle of nowhere, or is there something even more dangerous lurking in the woods that he doesn’t want them to get close to?
The film doesn’t stray too far from the Blair Witch template – suggesting a lot while never really showing what’s going on – and some may wish Goldthwait had brought a little more of his idiosyncratic worldview to the movie, as it’s relatively standard if well-made found footage stuff.
After a slow start the film picks up once the couple head off to the woods. That said, what happens in the forest isn’t going to surprise anyone, from things going bump in the night to Jim and Kelly getting lost. Thankfully Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore are pretty amiable in the main roles, and they make good company as they bicker and get increasingly freaked out during their trip to Bigfoot country.
It helps that while most found footage films quickly begin to stretch credulity in regards to what the characters are filming, here it makes sense. As a result there aren’t too many moments where the central conceit seems utterly implausible, which helps keeps you pulled into what’s going on..
The vast majority of Willow Creek is essentially build-up and it’s clear from about 20 minutes in that the whole thing is going to rest on whether they can pull off the ending. Although some may be frustrated it isn’t a bit more conclusive on the Bigfoot issue, the film does a good job of building the creepiness, getting quite a lot out of relatively little. The final few shots are very well staged with a great use of sound and the offer a couple of good jumps.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of Pretty Little Liars star Bryce Johnson, you’ll be pleased to hear he gets a nude scene, where only water semi-obscures his full-frontal modesty.
Overall Verdict: Willow Creek certainly isn’t going to completely reinvigorate the found footage genre, but it’s a decent, well-made effort that builds the creepiness, leading to a pretty good if inconclusive ending.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac