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Zack Mosley [Celluloid 09.30.13] horror thriller

"I don't even like found footage" said Bobcat Goldthwait as he introduced WILLOW CREEK, his found footage Bigfoot movie. Normally a statement like this coming from a director would be something of a bad omen, but he has a point. The more show-offy flourishes in the shooting or the editing of a found footage film, the more logical issues arise: who is the creep assembling all this sleazy footage, structuring supposedly real horrors for maximum dramatic effect? Who laid this sting-filled score down? I imagine some troglodyte editor in piss-stained underpants, sitting in a dank basement somewhere, with a copy of Final Cut Pro and a box full of murder evidence. It's a stylistic disconnect that can often lay bare the logical flaws in the narrative. Common refrains in reviews for found footage movies include "why do they keep filming?" or conversely "why do they feel the need to keep explaining why they're filming?" and the last thing we should be thinking about during a movie is dumb shit like that.

With this in mind, Goldthwait has opted for something a bit closer to what "real found footage" would actually look like in its raw state. With 60-something edits over a 77 minute run-time (including a seemingly uncut 19-minute scene), WILLOW CREEK is about as stripped down as the genre gets. You get the feeling that this could actually just be an unedited stream of .avi files straight from the camera that shot them. This approach brings the film full circle to the granddaddy of the sub-genre: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Goldthwait did acknowledge THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT as an exception to his found footage aversion, and he appears to have cherry-picked all of the best things about it. In the fourteen years since Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez's seminal film, the genre has thrown everything from zombies to superheroes to the Cloverfield monster at us in pseudo-documentary shaky-cam style. So it's surprising that it's taken so long to get back to the basics of that movie, the elements that made it a phenomenon compared to, say, THE LAST BROADCAST, or 84 CHARLIE MO-PIC, or CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. At its core, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT works because being alone in the woods at night is fucking creepy, and sometimes the things we don't see are scarier than the things we do.

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is an amateur videographer doofus who decides to conduct a search for the elusive Bigfoot and document his efforts. Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is the reluctant girlfriend he drags along, a vocal skeptic but a good sport. Together they're likeable leads with convincing chemistry on a road-trip to the Bigfoot capital of the Pacific Northwest: Willow Creek, California. They eat Bigfoot burgers, visit the local Bigfoot museum, check out Bigfoot-themed murals and statues. They interview the locals, and even get a few threats of the "you darn fool kids!" variety. It isn't long before our intrepid documentarians ignore these sternly-worded warnings and head into the woods, intending to visit the location of the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage, maps and compasses be damned.

It's a familiar set-up executed well, and with no budget or artifice to hide behind, it succeeds admirably on modest terms. That 19-minute scene I mentioned? It's two people sitting in a tent, but it plays like gangbusters, relying on weird noises beyond the nylon and the terrified expressions of the actors to ramp up your heart-rate. There is a lizard brain in all of us that wants to crawl out of our skull when we try to imagine what could be making those weird noises. Goldthwait may have cut his teeth in comedy, and Jim and Kelly exchange their fair share of witty barbs, but the tension and scares in WILLOW CREEK are legit. Goldthwait takes the Bigfoot legend seriously, and at face value. There's no winking at the audience, just straightforward genre filmmaking. In a similar vein to that other movie I keep mentioning, it ends abruptly and enigmatically, but anything more explicit might have killed the mood.

Pound for pound, this is a better movie than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (more appealing characters for one), but it arrives in a different era. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT had the benefit of showing up on an empty playing field at the tail end of the most uneventful decade in horror history, officially sounding the death knell for the SCREAM-style high concept studio slasher. WILLOW CREEK shows up in an indie horror market that is thoroughly saturated with found footage, also joining THE LOST COAST TAPES and EXISTS (from BLAIR WITCH helmer Eduardo Sánchez himself) as one of three Bigfoot pictures in the offing. Regardless, it delivers the goods on a shoestring, so I anticipate that horror audiences, Bigfoot aficionados and Goldthwait's growing fanbase will give WILLOW CREEK the love it deserves.

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chuc k (8 years ago) Reply

Bobcat has not made a bad film yet. I look forward to this.

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