Toronto After Dark 2013: My Review of Willow Creek
Bobcat Goldthwait and Bigfoot. Name a better way to spend an evening at the movies? Especially at Toronto After Dark. It goes without saying that I was personally very excited to take in the screening of Bobcat’s new film, Willow Creek at the festival last night. The Fest had their official “Scary” theme night that evening co-presented by Rue Morgue Magazine and there was definitely some chills in the air. Oddly, for every chill there was also a laugh to be had. I’ve always found it weird that the things that make us freaked out and nervous also tickle our funny bone from time to time. The night ahead promised both shrieks of terror and laughter. This was illustrated beautifully with the pre-show in which Bigfoot himself made an appearance and answered questions from the audience. The fun continued as Bobcat got to introduce his film and explain his take on found footage. “I’ve never understood the whole idea of going ‘Hey, sorry for your loss but with the right edits, I think we can make a picture out of this’.” We’d hear more from the director after the screening but now it was time to turn the lights down low and begin the cinema experience. Before the feature, as always at Toronto After Dark, a Canadian short film was shown to set the mood and set the mood it did. The Lamp was a tale about a first date that was equal parts creepy and humourous. While not entirely thematic to the night, it was definitely in theme with the eeriness we were about to experience. What followed was a feature that entertained, thrilled and showed how found footage, a played out sub-genre, can still work in it’s purest form.
Willow Creek is the story of amateur filmmaker Jim and his girl friend Kelly, two tourists who’ve made the trek to Bigfoot Country, the woods of Willow Creek and Bluff Creek, in search of proof of the existence of Sasquatches. Inspired by the 1967 footage shot by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin of what is speculated to be an actual sighting of Bigfoot, Jim is obsessed with making a doc to prove to his girlfriend and the world that Bigfoot is real. Kelly goes along with it to appease him as it is his birthday trip. After talking with many of the locals in the area, Jim and Kelly make their way out into the wilderness. Once they are there, away from any signs of civilization, things go horribly wrong.
When one looks at a film like this one, it’s natural to make the comparison to The Blair Witch Project. Bobcat himself understands the obvious connection. It’s a found footage horror film that takes place in the woods about someone trying to make a documentary about a legend that might be true. If you didn’t make the comparison, it would be surprising. But where this film differs is that we truly get to know Jim and Kelly, we see a window into their life together and we actually care what happens to them. The entire film is not rested solely on the horror. Strong performances from Bryce Johnson and Alexis Gilmore are what makes this film work. The film also takes logical steps in it’s plot. Once shit hit’s the fan, the couple’s first instinct is to find a way out of the woods. They don’t spend 45 minutes arguing over who has the map.
What I found most interesting about the approach to the film is Bobcat’s commitment to making the found footage effect feel authentic. There are only 67 edits in the movie. This comes into play heavily in the second half of the film. There is a nineteen minute scene that has no cuts. It’s nineteen minutes of watching two people scared out of their wits. It feels claustrophobic but in a good way. There’s no place else for the audience to be except in sharing this moment of terror with our protagonists. The moment feels real, something that many filmmakers would shy away from. But Bobcat embraces the moment just as much as he does the “Bigfoot Community”.
I was blown away with how many “real” people are used in the film. The movie was shot on location in Willow Creek, so many of the locals used in the film are real people telling real stories and giving their real views on Bigfoot. No one is made to look foolish unless they do it themselves. We hear from those that believe that the Sasquatch is real and those that think it’s a hoax. Regardless, there is a lot of love shown to the Bigfoot Community and that actually heightens the viewing enjoyment. With influences from the likes of The Legend of Boggy Creek and Grizzly Man, Bobcat makes a well rounded movie that has laughs, tears, realistically awkward moments (especially for Jim), and chilling scenes of pure horror.
Much like Goldthwait, I am not a big fan of found footage films. I’ve seen a number of interesting takes on the sub-genre that have turned the style on it’s end and made it feel different. This is the first found footage film I’ve seen in a long time that has stuck with the traditional take on this format and produced a truly great film. When you get the chance, do yourself a favour and watch Willow Creek. It’s creepy, it’s fun and it’s time well spent.
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