WILLOW CREEK (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait

Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait

Starring: Alexie Gilmore & Bryce Johnson

With a filmography purely consisting of comedies, comedian-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldtwait is one of the last people you’d expect to tackle a found-footage scarefest. WILLOW CREEK is Bobcat’s first film outside of the comedy genre and strictly adheres to the formula surrounding plenty of other handheld horror movies. There are missteps along the way, but Bobcat does hit a 25-minute-long stride of horror gold. The flaws definitely weigh the whole experience down, but this movie is nowhere near as terrible as lots of recent found footage horror (THE LOST COAST TAPES, CROWSNEST, etc.). If you’re looking for a new addition in this overpopulated category of film, you can certainly do a whole lot worse than WILLOW CREEK. It winds up being a decent film as a whole, but there are some solid eerie scenes to be seen.

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Jim is a Bigfoot believer dreaming of trekking out to the site of the Patterson-Gimlin footage (a.k.a. that blurry piece of film that captured “Bigfoot”). It has become a staple piece for either criticism or belief in a Sasquatch species living out in the Bluff Creek area of California. Jim is finally making his long-planned trip and Kelly, his reluctant girlfriend, is coming to document his journey to that original sighting area. After spending time interviewing locals and delving into Bigfoot-lore across the small town nearby Bluff Creek, the couple treks out into the wilderness to “capture” some evidence of Bigfoot. Seeing as this is a found footage horror flick, it doesn’t take a jaded genre fanatic or a cinematic genius to tell you where things are heading next.

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As far as the characters go, Bryce Johnson (Jim) and Alexie Gilmore (Kelly) have good chemistry together. I could totally see them working as a real-life couple and that greatly benefits the film. It helps to care about the characters holding the camera in a found footage film and makes everything later on that much freakier. The problem is that the really scary stuff doesn’t come until way later on. This movie takes more than halfway through to actually get going. It’s not as if what I was watching bored me, but I was getting angsty and thinking “Come on, go into the forest already so I can see some spooky stuff.”

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Rest assured, some really unnerving scenes do happen later on. I worry that at that point, it might be too little done too late for a majority of viewers. I was a bit annoyed by that. Bobcat is clearly influenced by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (one of the best found footage films of all-time), but taking that approach in this day and age feels worn-out. We’ve seen plenty of other films take a long time to get pumping at full-speed in the scare department and WILLOW CREEK (though containing good jolts) takes an exhausting amount of running time in building things up. The characters also make some stupid decisions here and there. It made sense to have a flashlight on in the tent, if it was keeping creatures in the forest at a distance. However, if you’re being stalked by a monstrous beast in open landscape during nighttime, the best maneuver is probably not shining a light on yourselves and revealing where you are. I mean, maybe Bigfoot can see well in the dark, but I’d take my chances that he might not be able to discover me easily if I’m not shining a frickin’ flashlight on myself showing off where I am and what I’m armed with.

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Where things shine is in an extended tent sequence (mentioned in plenty of other reviews) that relies entirely upon sound to get a scare. This scene does borrow from one of my personal scariest movie scenes of all-time (the tent in BLAIR WITCH, which freaked me out for an entire night), but it’s done very well. Things get drastically better from that point on, seeing as Bigfoot(s) aren’t necessarily nocturnal creatures and a day-time sequence (a fast succession of brief pieces of footage) is plenty suspenseful too. The film goes out in typical found-footage fashion and the climax felt too rushed. It was as if Bobcat was eager to wrap things up, but didn’t necessarily milk the full potential in how long the movie actually could have run with the spooky material. In those 25-minutes leading up to that rushed finale, everything was really stellar and I wish the film had been mostly in that caliber of filmmaking.

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WILLOW CREEK could very well have been titled “The Blair Bigfoot Project.” It borrows liberally from that notable 1999 horror masterpiece and sticks to the formula in frustrating ways. Things take too long to get where they’re going (creepy-ass Bigfoot encounters that are kept ever so slightly out of the camera’s view), but there’s a solid 25 minutes where I was really unnerved. With everything else factored in, WILLOW CREEK ends up as an okay cinemaverite piece that doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before. I would argue that if those 25 minutes of terror had been stretched out to an hour, then this might have been a little flick worth celebrating. Don’t go out of your way to see Bobcat’s horror debut, but it’s not a bad film and certainly better than most recent handheld horror flicks.

Grade: C+

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