Well….looks like we’re going to do this again huh? I won’t lie – I thought about bailing but I knew I would regret it later so here we are! 31 days, 31 horror movies that I have never seen before. *deep breath* Oh I am so ready for this.
Can we blame Paranormal Activity for the resurgence of found footage? Is REC at fault? Cloverfield? Point me in the right direction as I would like to have a word with whoever is responsible and ensure they feel as bad about it as they definitely should. I don’t hate the found footage sub-genre as much as many do but it’s hard to deny it has been buried, resurrected, beaten to death slowly, buried again, dug up one last time, tortured slowly, and then buried deep in the ground once more. I swear there is a Hollywood team who just sits around and throws out words to fill the blank in “Let’s do a found footage movie with _____”. This one is “Let’s do a found footage movie with Bigfoot” which is something I would usually have no trouble ignoring but there was one key thing that peaked my interest; the movie is written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
I’m sure you already know that Goldthwait isn’t exactly known for making conventional movies and the idea of him putting his stamp on found footage movies was very appealing. Surprisingly though, well unless you’ve read just about any other review for this movie, he doesn’t do anything at all out there with the concept. Willow Creekis very straight-forward and incredibly simplistic. Though surprisingly, it’s that very thing that puts this among the higher tier of found footage movies.
Willow Creek keeps its cast small and only features two main characters – Jim and Kelly. Jim has set out to make a documentary about Bigfoot, following the same trail that was walked by the man who shot the famous video in the sixties’. Kelly isn’t really into the whole thing and is primarily there to support Jim and spend some time with him. I guess the one thing Goldthwait does differently from most found footage movies here is that he makes the main characters actual likable human beings instead of the standard group of obnoxious assholes. A huge fault in most movies of the genre is that you simply don’t give a shit about anybody so it’s hard to muster up much feeling when things start to get bad for them. Jim and Kelly though are actual good people so you do feel bad knowing that this documentary is obviously going to go way fucking south on them eventually. A lot of their likability comes from the performances of Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore. I’ve seen some complaints about their acting so maybe other found footage movies have drastically lowered my expectations but I thought they both did quite well. Their chemistry is solid and nothing comes off as too stiff or forced.
I also found Willow Creek did a better job at executing the “found” part of “found footage”. Unlike many others, this truly did feel as though you could be watching raw footage that someone simply, ya know, found. It’s not slickly edited together or anything. It just feels like the tape you would watch had two people really set out to make this documentary and while yes some may feel this gives the movie a much slower pace (primarily for reasons we will get to soon) I thought it worked in its favour.
The first half of the movie is devoted purely to the documentary stuff as they venture around town and interview residents, who I read are actual people giving genuine interviews, which makes this work even better if that’s the case. I liked that these people weren’t openly mocked as it would have been such a lazy and easy route for them to go. Here you have a group of eccentric Bigfoot believers (with the exception of one older woman who doesn’t buy into any of it) living in a woodsy area so I was confident we’d see a lot of redneck jokes and, god forbid, a “squeal like a pig” reference, perhaps the laziest god damn quote anyone could ever pull when people and woods are involved. But there’s none of that. They do have fun with the legend but they are generally serious about it and treat the subject with respect. It’s a nice touch that helps further your affinity for the characters.
The latter half of the movie is when they leave the town and start actually making the trek through the woods and yes they do indeed fall victim to many of the expected tropes and clichés. They bicker, they get lost and end up walking in circles, etc. However the centerpiece of this section is an extended take, easily fifteen minutes if not even longer, that consists of nothing more than the two of them sitting inside their tent and listening to sounds coming from outside. Much of the time they aren’t even speaking; just sitting there quietly and taking everything in. It sounds boring and it absolutely should be but god damn if it didn’t creep me the hell out. This whole sequence is shockingly effective. It took me back to a camping trip my wife and I went on years ago where we spend a good half hour in the tent sitting motionless as what had to be a bear (we were too scared to peak out of the tent and look as what if the bear noticed and decided those people gots to be mauled immediately) rustled around our camp site. It was pretty terrifying and this got me right back there.
Does it do anything terribly different from other movies of its ilk, especially the Blair Witch Project which I just learned is 15-years-old and now I feel super bummed out cuz I’m old and time won’t stop moving fast and slow the fuck down time cuz I still got shit I wanna do but I’m getting too old to do it and oh my god? Not especially different no. Even the ending is appropriately vague as you would no doubt expect. But it turns out the movie works far better by stripping away all the bullshit and going full minimalist with its concept and execution. There no gimmicks or anything really. It’s played as simple as can be but holy shit it really works. I doubt it will change anyone’s minds if they already hate found footage and everything it has to offer, but at the very least it proves that it’s still actually possible to make a good one of these things.