Earlier this month, we saw the release of Willow Creek, a “found footage” horror film from Bobcat Goldthwait that focuses on the legend of Bigfoot. With an interesting style that mixed realism, comedy and horror, the film does a great job of presenting a film that’s unique while still remaining true to traditional “found footage” flicks. I got the chance to check the movie out at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Here is my review from that screening.
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 (the new Blu-ray version has 70 cuts). 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.
The blu-ray edition of Willow Creek sports some great extras including a commentary featuring Goldthwait, Bryce Johnson and Alexis Gilmore. The commentary does a great job of letting you know what’s “real” and what’s been scripted. It also delves into the shoot and how it was a type of film that all three were new to making. Also included is a short featurette titled “Bryce Johnson’s ‘The Making of Willow Creek'” which shows a snippet of behind-the-scenes footage that proves just how hard it is to fake a good looking “Bigfoot” footprint. It’s a great little feature and really adds to the enjoyment of the film. If you’re looking for a good horror film to help start your October Horror Fest early, I highly recommend Willow Creek.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!