Review: Willow Creek (Fantasia)

PLOT: Jim (Bryce Johnson) is obsessed with the legend of Bigfoot, and drags his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) along on a trip into the heart of “Bigfoot country” in Willow Creek, California to make a documentary retracing the journey taken by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, who allegedly caught footage of the creature on film.

REVIEW: One thing no one could ever accuse Bobcat Goldthwait of being is predictable. Back in the eighties and nineties, he was a wild and crazy comic known for his wacky stand-up, and parts in movies like POLICE ACADEMY 3 & 4, SCROOGED, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, and the infamous HOT TO TROT. After a while, he moved into directing, and made a series of independent, wildly unconventional, and often brilliant comedies, including SHAKES THE CLOWN, WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, and GOD BLESS AMERICA. After watching those movies, you’d never have thought Goldthwait was itching to make a horror film, but his found-footage thriller, WILLOW CREEK is a confident, creepy entry into that micro-budget genre.

Going in to WILLOW CREEK, I assumed this would be a send-up, and while the first half hour of the movie is pretty funny (with much of the humor coming from people Johnson and Gilmore interview in Willow Creek, some of whom are actors, while others are authentic locals), the rest of the film is relatively straight-forward horror. From the point that Jim and Kelly walk into the woods, only to be confronted by creepy “River People” and strange vocalizations at night, WILLOW CREEK is full-on horror not that far removed from something like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Despite his comedy chops, Goldthwait seems to know his horror, and manages to pull off some interesting, low-tech horror set-pieces, including an uninterrupted seventeen minute take where Jim and Kelly are taunted and terrified while camping in their tent by the strange noises outside. WILLOW CREEK definitely emphasizes the “micro” in microbudget, with Goldthwait mentioning in the Q&A following the Fantasia Film Festival premiere that all of the camping scenes (which takes up a good 60% of the running time) were done in two and a half days, with a tiny crew on hand-held DV cams. It’s not as ambitious as Goldthwait’s recent boundary testing comedies like WORLD’S GREATEST DAD or GOD BLESS AMERICA, but it’s a unique change of pace, and an undeniable knack for the genre.

That said it’s best to go into WILLOW CREEK with tempered expectations. Goldthwait’s movies are usually ambitious, but WILLOW CREEK feels more like an exercise, a way for Goldthwait to challenge himself by moving into another genre. Running a quick seventy-seven minutes, it’s not the kind of movie to inspire raves, although at the same time I can’t imagine anyone fully disliking it, as the performances by Gilmore and Johnson are perfectly likable (much better than the norm for found-footage), and the first part of the movie, which reveals Willow Creek to be a pretty strange and eccentric place, is intriguing. It’s a solid little thriller, with a few genuinely spooky moments towards the end. It’s well worth checking out, and marks an interesting departure for Goldthwait, who continues to challenge himself with each film he makes.



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