By David Mayne
Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
What to say…what to say…
Ok, look: There will never be another Blair Witch Project, period. Every armchair filmmaker and their mom can try has hard as they want, but the fact stands that the found footage genre is about 1% great and 99% bullshit, the latter percentage of which is where their “film” will undoubtedly end up. I’m not hating on the genre, I personally love it, but you’ve gotta ask yourself: what’s the last decent found-footage (FF) flick you watched where you were either A) spooked, or B) not cringing at terrible acting? I’d wager that your list is pretty brief. Come on, the fact that Eduardo Sanchez damn-near pioneered low-budget, FF horror which in turn opened the floodgates to every kid with a camcorder to make their own movie, is an awesomesauce-enough reason to be curious about the genre. The Blair Witch Project came out at the right time, and it worked. No one had seen that sort of thing before and no one really has since. For all intents and purposes, the FF genre might have lived and died back in 1999. What I mean is, Blair Witch knocked it out of the park, but my opinion is that the mold should have been broken after that.
Nothing since has been scary, serious, or new. Have there been any good FF flicks since Blair Witch? Sure, I mean, look at [REC], Europa Report, Lake Mungo, Troll Hunter, and hell…even the 1st Paranormal Activity. These films all brought a semi-unique twist to their presentations, and all were entertaining enough to get through without laughing. But none of them have ever given me that same skin-crawling desperation that Blair Witch did 15 years ago. In my opinion, the genre has now devolved into a tired, over-cooked, and rehashed stew; wannabe throw-away flicks where nothing is fresh, nothing is scary, and above all, nothing is original.
Oddly enough, and speaking of Eduardo Sanchez, who’s upcoming bigfoot film, Exists, treads similar cinematic territory, Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest yarn also tackles everyone’s favorite hairy cryptid. For the most part, it succeeds in presenting a watchable, engaging, albeit not all-too-scary FF film.
Willow Creek features Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson), a young couple headed to Six Rivers National Forest where the infamous Patterson–Gimlin film was supposedly shot, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Bigfoot. Taking almost one-for-one queues from Blair Witch, Willow Creek starts off by introducing the fun-loving couple as they head up into the mountains to begin their journey. Jim, a huge believer in Bigfoot lore and a devotee of the Patterson film comes across as both genuine and likable, an easy-going but driven everyman on a personal quest to walk on the “hallowed ground” of his childhood boogeyman. Jim’s girlfriend, Kelly, is much less inclined to believe in what she considers a myth, although her enthusiasm to venture into the woods is never in question and the couple works well together both in chemistry and believability on-screen.
Even though Goldthwait is known for more provocative fare, Willow Creek marks his first foray into directing a quasi-horror film, something I never thought I’d see. Approaching the film with just enough subtlety, Goldthwait actually succeeds in setting up a film that is both interesting and alluring. Drawing from the typical FF formula of day-night cycles (where the weird stuff happens at night of course), Willow Creek seems like it’s about to fall right into the now-all-too-common FF graveyard of predictability…that is until about 3/4 of the way through, where the film comes close to a grinding halt. The scene in questions takes place inside the couple’s tent one night, as Jim proposes to Kelly, amid strange sounds outside. The scene is overly long and drawn out, and right when I thought that the movie was about to do itself in, a wild and totally unexpected ending ensues that is equal parts WTF and WHOA.
I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy the ending, but after the debbie-downer tent scene, I was ready for another hour of crazy FF goodness, as Willow Creek had now built-up some pretty good legs on which to stand on for the rest of the movie. The problem is, right when you want the film to take-off, right when it seems like it freaking will….it’s over. Yes, it’s over…and with a big, fat, unceremonious middle finger to your grill piece. My first instinct was to say aloud, “REALLY?!” My second thought was, “Jesus Christ, Bobcat, where the hell is the rest of the movie?”
As I digested the film (and a few beers) afterwards, I started to realize that the movie was decent overall even though it didn’t give me the cryptozoo money shot I was looking for. Note: I don’t usually go looking for money shots, but you know what I mean.
Watching Willow Creek was like building a really good snowman and then not putting on the corncob nose, the coal eyes, or the wood-stick arms. I got the immediate and overwhelming sense that the film was not finished. Was it rushed out the door in order to make some bullshit release date? Seriously, why betray the entire movie with an ending that is both vague and mildly to mediumly stupid? Yes, I GET that the Blair Witch ending was just as brief, yet the story that came before it was fleshed out enough that it brought some degree of closure when it was all over. Willow Creek pretty much just…ends, at what feels like the completely wrong time.
By the by, it is what it is and I don’t hate Goldthwait for not giving me the satisfying ending I so desired, but hell, when you make a mother trucking Bigfoot movie and do what he did in the end, wrapping it up with some obscure nonsense instead of something that would have actually validated the wonderful buildup, I can’t ignore it. It makes Willow Creek a one-time-watch for me, and that’s unfortunate, as it could have been stellar. I really liked most of it, and you might too, just don’t expect a reinvention of the wheel.
Well, now it’s up to Eduardo and his Exists flick. Hopefully the grandfather of found-footage can pull it off.