Willow Creek (2013)
(TBC) Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Bobcat Goldthwait is quite a character: he was well known in the 80’s for playing Zed in the Police Academy films, and over the past few years has directed ambitious and very dark comedy like God Bless America, Sleeping Dogs and World’s Greatest Dad. He introduced FrightFest on the opening night, and the crowd adored him and his cheeky sense of humour. Fans have been baffled yet hugely excited to see him attempt his first horror film with Willow Creek, and thankfully he was on hand to share some stories for both showings of the film at FrightFest. I missed the first showing on Saturday afternoon, but I got in early on Sunday and booked my ticket for the Sunday late show of the film at 11pm. Again, the director was on hand to introduce his film, and due to popular demand, the film had been moved from the smaller screens used for the lesser known titles, to the second biggest screen in the cinema. A clear sign that Willow Creek was popular with the fans, and the end result was a terrific slice of comedy and found footage terror that works on so many levels.
Jim (Johnson) is a Bigfoot obsessive, and has convinced his girlfriend Kelly (Gilmore) to join him as he heads to Willow Creek, Sasquatch country, where the first sightings of Bigfoot were recorded. Jim wants to retrace the steps of Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, the pair who are reported to have captured Bigfoot on film for the first time decades ago. The entire trip is filmed on Jim’s camera, and we join them as they are on the road to their hotel in Willow Creek. Kelly makes it clear she is not truly convinced that Bigfoot exists, but is happy to humour her over excited boyfriend. The pair banter along the way, with Jim asking Kelly to use her acting skills (she’s an up and coming actress) to help when filming him. She is told off for using the word “action” before takes, while she tells Jim off for not being natural enough. This leads to some hilarious banter between the lovers, and Goldthwait keeps up the comedy gold as they enter the mountain village in Sasquatch country.
We are introduced to the Bigfoot Burger (the bun is shaped like a foot), a museum of Bigfoot drawings (hilariously thought of as Bigfoot’s actual drawings) and bizarre Muriel’s of Bigfoot through the ages (with some laugh out loud Bigfoot impressions from Jim). There are milk cartons with missing people on, and Jim points out that the girl in the picture (she is smiling) appears happy to be missing: the cinema screen erupts in laughter. This intelligent yet almost slapstick humour wins over the FrightFest crowd to the point even silence and a glance bring on laughter. I would imagine Goldthwait was sat in the back of the screening rubbings his hands together thinking “I have these fools exactly where I want them!”. And he does, and when the film takes a terrifying turn into full on found footage horror territory half way through, the calm, relaxed audience are suddenly screaming and begging for something to hide behind. Of all the films I saw at FrightFest, Willow Creek had more people screaming than anything else!
Jim and Kelly head into the woods, regardless of the warnings from locals, and being a found footage film, they get lost and have to camp during the night. A ten minute unbroken sequence in their tent at night is up there with some of the most tense and nerve jangling moments you will ever experience. Goldthwait destroys the rules as he draws out the scene, but keeps up the tension as you come close to begging for it all to be over. Forget Paranormal Activity, THIS is how you build suspense. The night in the woods, and the arguments over being lost in the day are powerful stuff, and Willow Creek builds on what The Blair Witch Project did all those years ago, and terrifies you with suggestion. The sound of twigs snapping, a log being banged against a tree, haunting howling which may or may not be Bigfoot, it all adds up to a beltering shocker guaranteed to give you the shivers, and probably have you forgetting to breathe!
Goldthwait wanted to test the waters with the horror genre, and based on the evidence of this superb film, and the crowd reaction and positive Tweets after FrightFest (many calling it one of the highlights of the festival), he has done good. It is never easy breaking into a new genre, and the horror genre is especially a difficult one as it takes a lot to please us picky fans. To attempt horror for the first time by using a style that many say has had its day is ballsy, brave and has well and truly paid off for Goldthwait. Willow Creek feels like it has been made by a director who has been in the horror genre all his life, it is a flawless exorcise in comedy and sheer terror, delivered with passion and ambition, heart and a true sense of knowing what us horror fans enjoy. Willow Creek is fresh, hilarious and downright terrifying in equal measure, and I have to agree with the rest of the FrightFest crowd, this was indeed one of the highlights, a film we all expected would be enjoyable, but no one expected it to be as good as this.