Thursday, September 11, 2014

Movie Review: Willow Creek

Willow Creek
Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait.
Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait.
Starring: Alexie Gilmore (Kelly), Bryce Johnson (Jim).

The last two films Bobcat Goldtwait directed, World’s Greatest Dad (2009) and God Bless America (2011) were daring, incendiary films that looked at the cult of death, and the state of American culture respectively. The films easily offended some, and had many ideas that even fans of the film (like myself) do not necessarily agree with – but that only made the films more memorable. So it’s a little odd to see Willow Creek, which looks like just another Blair Witch Project knock-off. And, truth be told, when the film ends that is precisely what the film has been – another found footage horror film. Having said that, it is an expertly crafted found footage horror film – one that is smarter, funnier and scarier than the rest of the found footage horror films I have seen in the last year or so.

The film stars Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson as Kelly and Jim – a couple who has been dating for a while, who travel to the Pacific Northwest in search of bigfoot. Jim is a believer – he knows all the stories and legends – who “saw” Bigfoot where and when. Kelly is basically just along for the ride – she wants to make Jim happy, so she’ll tag along with him on his trip. They get to the small town, who has made Bigfoot into a way of drawing tourists to the area to buy cheap souvenirs, eat “Bigfoot” Burgers and stay at the Bigfoot Motel. They have giant Bigfoot statues everywhere – and the locals are more than willing to sit down and talk to Jim about the legends. Gradually however, so gradually in fact many in the audience may not notice, the stories start to get a little darker, more violent, the people seem to be less friendly and jovial, and more haunted or sinister. Their last stop before heading out into the woods is another one of those Bigfoot statues where Jim jokingly gets an interview with Bigfoot himself – something that angers a local who tells him not to do that. This isn’t some sort of joke. When they get to the woods, they meet an even angrier man – who tells them to turn around and leave the woods right now – and isn’t nice about it either. But none of this will dissuade Jim – he knows a back way into the woods where he wants to go, and soon he and Kelly are deep in the woods. And strange things start to happen.

The first half of Willow Creek pretty much stays in town with Kelly and Jim, and slowly (perhaps too slowly) starts to build the menace in the town and the people, and gradually the unease builds. The second half takes them to the woods, and continues to build the suspense and unease. And then there is a brilliant, nearly 20 minute single shot scene of the pair holed up inside their tent at night, as they hear strange noises outside the tent – and then more than just noises. It is a brilliant sequence, and proves that the scariest thing in a movie can be nothing more than an unknown noise in the dark. The sequence is scarier than anything else I have seen this year – and anything in any movie since last year’s The Conjuring.

After that sequence, the movie proceeds to its inevitable conclusion in a more straightforward fashion. We know it’s not going to end well – these movies never end well – yet like the rest of the movie, it is effectively handled by Goldthwaite. Willow Creek is not as daring as the last few films by Goldthwaite, although it may be a less “flawed” film. It is essentially what it looks like – yet another Blair Witch inspired horror movie. But in the years since Blair Witch broke out Willow Creek is probably the best of all its imitators – and more proof that Goldthwaite is a real filmmaker.

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