Willow Creek (2013) d. Bobcat Goldthwait (USA)
I’ll admit from the outset, it might seem odd to the casual observer that, after my lambasting of the Drew Barrymore-produced Happy Camp a few months back, I should be any less brutal in my treatment of yet another Sasquatch-themed found-footage flick that borrows heavily from The Blair Witch Project’s template. The fact that one succeeds wildly while the other only succeeded in testing my patience vividly illustrates that mere story or narrative approach are far less important than how those elements are utilized. It also helps that Goldthwait has proven himself over the years to be a resourceful and savvy filmmaker, knowing how and when to push his viewers’ emotional buttons; within the single-camera confines, this is an essential skill set and the writer/director perfectly orchestrates the onscreen action to full effect.
|If all hamburger buns came with toes, life would be infinitely better.|
The set-up is simplicity itself: Jim (Bryce Johnson), armed with an childhood obsession with Bigfoot and handy dandy camcorder, heads out to fulfill his own In Search Of... fantasy with his aspiring actress girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), exploring the titular region where the legendary beast has been spotted over the years. Much of the first section is jocular in nature: we see the couple chowing down on Bigfoot burgers, standing by carved totems, interviewing locals both enthusiastic and skeptical, and teasing each other relentlessly, whether it be Jim’s awkward on-camera intros or Kelly’s stubborn refusal to even entertain the possibility that the missing link exists. And yes, as many online detractors have boisterously noted, not a lot “happens” during the opening 45 minutes, but the two main characters are so likeable and the set-up interesting enough that I remained completely engaged throughout.
It’s after Jim gets a lead on a location where some notable sightings took place, and he and Kelly head into the woods to camp and explore, that things take a sharp uptick in suspense and terror. They encounter a less-than-hospitable gun-toting resident that blocks their path, their campsite is trashed, they becomes hopelessly lost, and their nightmare is capped by a breathtaking extended nighttime sequence inside the tent that feels like a magic trick in that it just keeps going...and going...and going. 18 minutes, folks, and darned if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat nearly the entire time. The climax that follows delivers both shock and a lingering sense of dread, one that still provides a welcome shiver several weeks on.
If you hated or were indifferent to The Blair Witch Project, then Willow Creek is unlikely to float your proverbial canoe. But if you’re open to a well-executed found-footage feature that actually plays by that format’s rules (I’m looking at you, Ti West’s The Sacrament), then stoke the campfire, grill the Sasquatch sammies, serve up the s’mores, and enjoy the hairy-scary ride.