Actor, writer and director Bobcat Goldthwait turns his attentions to found footage horror as he channels the Blair Witch by way of Snowbeast with the entertaining Willow Creek…
If Willow Creek proves one thing it is that being wholly unoriginal does not always detract from a film’s ability to entertain. Bobcat Goldthwait’s sixth feature film as director is another he should be proud of alongside recent work such as the delightfully dark World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America. I’d say Willow Creek is The Blair Witch Project meets Snowbeast but the film is heavily indebted to the former. Indeed, there are elements of the film, including its structure and dramatic sequences, that seem lifted from the 1999 found footage classic. However, transplanting these ideas into a setting besieged not this time by a witch but by sasquatch works equally well. The all-encompassing forest creates a disorientating claustrophobia while the beast that stalks by night is a foreboding menace.
The film’s events take place in the Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California where Bigfoot enthusiast Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his sceptical girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) hope to capture sasquatch on film. It’s where the famous, grainy Patterson-Gimlin footage was recorded purportedly showing Bigfoot walking in the forest. Jim begins his investigation by visiting the nearby town and interviewing the locals. Everyone has their own opinion of what might or might not be in the nearby mountains with a few unsavoury townsfolk warning Jim not to go into the forest. But he is undeterred despite Kelly’s protestations and the couple head out into the wilderness. Events, unsurprisingly, take a turn for the worst with the pair hearing strange noises at night. The next day they decide to leave but become disorientated and lose their bearings. It means they have to spend another night in the forest with whoever or whatever is stalking them for company.
It’s Blair Witch revisited, yet despite Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film being far better, Willow Creek is a mighty fine rework/adaptation. One of my favourite scenes in The Blair Witch Project is when the filmmakers’ tent is attacked by what appear to be childrens’ hands pressing violently against the tent’s outer shell. Goldthwait recreates something similar for Willow Creek but ups the tension. Whereas The Blair Witch’s scene was a matter of seconds, Willow Creek extends the drama for a good ten minutes. It’s thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Goldthwait frames it from a single camera that never cuts away, its little light illuminating the frightened couple in the tent. The fact it’s so simple – from the odd noise to the sound of feet walking close by – makes it even more effective. The director extracts even more tension from the performances of the two actors who must react to what’s going on around them without knowing what Goldthwait is going to throw at them. It’s a technique that worked terrifically well in The Blair Witch Project where the actors could easily convey fear because they themselves were feeling the effects of isolation, the dark of night, and the unpredictability of what might happen next.
Elsewhere, Goldthwait finds some nice moments of humour between long-suffering Kelly and supernatural aficionado Jim while poking fun at small town rituals and the folk that inhabit such backwater communities. This provides entertaining respite to the film’s familiar but well-orchestrated scares. There are moments that feel overdone, highlighting the fact the material is fairly thin, and some scenes would have been helped by a sharper edit, but at under 80 minutes long the film hardly outstays its welcome. Indeed, Willow Creek might not have an original bone in its body but it’s a fun, effective interpretation of the blueprint The Blair Witch Project introduced us to.