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Set in Humboldt County, California, Willow Creek centers on Jim (Bryce Johnson) a Bigfoot believer whose idea of a romantic getaway is to head deep into Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California, video camera in tow, trying to shoot his own Bigfoot footage at the site of the Patterson-Gimlin film. That 1967 fragment of footage purporting to show Sasquatch striding along a dry riverbed became a key artifact in the cryptozoology community and Jim dreams of nothing more than setting foot on the actual location where it was shot. His long-suffering girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), agrees to tag along for the ride, despite the fact that she thinks Bigfoot has about as much chance of being real as leprechauns. (From Dark Sky’s original synopsis)

 Willow Creek
Many of you may be aware that Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek isn’t the first found footage/mockumentary Bigfoot horror movie. The tradition begins all the way back in 1972, when a salesman-turned-independent filmmaker named Charles B. Pierce made a $10,000 quickie about Arkansas’ infamous Fouke Monster (Sasquatch’s southern, swamp-based cousin). That film, The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), might’ve been the first horror mockumentary ever made – though some readers may correct me and refer to it as more of mock-docudrama (it claims to be re-creating the dramatic events alongside the interview segments). Goldthwait’s film is more of a Blair Witch Project version of a Bigfoot documentary, which apes a more contemporary brand of real documentary, instead of the ‘70s made-for-TV style Legend of Boggy Creek imitates. Unfortunately for Goldthwait, Boggy Creek and its forgotten sequels/remakes aren’t his only competition. Willow Creek is actually riding a virtual tsunami of found footage Bigfoot movies that includes Christian Cisneros’ The Woodsman, Stephon Stewart’s Bigfoot County, Corey Grant’s Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes, and Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez’ Exists. All of these films appear to have taken some inspiration from a dopey Animal Planet series called Finding Bigfoot run by ‘real life’ characters that will supposedly find the beast someday and keep it secret long enough to edit and release the episode without the major news outlets catching on to the discovery of a real Sasquatch.

So what, if anything, does Goldthwait bring to the inexplicably busy subgenre? Well, his snide side certainly shines through in the characters and their occasionally sarcastic dialogue. The film is often more concerned with faking the process of making a documentary than faking a documentary. Like the second half of Cannibal Holocaust, Goldthwait sticks his audience in the cutting room with the editor as he culls the raw footage, most of which is outtake material. This means we’re privy to amusing amateurism and naturalistic discussion alongside some incredibly boring filler. This, I assume, is the purpose of the film – to re-create the awkward sensation of trying to make an exposé without knowing what you’re doing. Listless punch lines about interviewing locals with nothing important to say are eventually interrupted by the even more awkward hints that Jim and Kelly’s relationship isn’t going too work (a lot of this is cleverly implied between cuts) and the even more awkward fact that a number of the locals are trying to scare them away from the forest. This helps seep genuine horror into the mix as the documentarians and the audience begins to wonder if the locals are trying to help them or if they themselves are a threat.

 Willow Creek
The threat is undermined by the listless tone and Goldthwait’s insistence on impossibly long takes where nothing happens. A key scene towards the end of the film sees Jim and Kelly sitting in their tent, listening to creepy noises outside. The scene is practically experimental in its relentless length. I respect the fact that this one, unbroken shot becomes its own little mini-movie and admit that the scene ends on a suitably eerie note (once things escalate to fully realized bumps and growls), but Goldthwait’s slow burn moves so slowly it trips beyond uncomfortable silence to the point that many viewers will give up on the film entirely. If the film had continued along this trajectory, I think it might have paid off with a fully realized and completely nerve wracking final act. Unfortunately, Willow Creek takes one too many pages from the Blair Witch Project playbook and ends with a sudden, herky-jerky, unsatisfying thud.

 Willow Creek

Video


Like most found footage movies, Willow Creek is supposed to look rough – as if shot by regular people that don’t know exactly what they’re doing and this 1.78:1, 1080p transfer isn’t going to end up on anyone’s demo disc list. Goldthwait, cinematographer Evan Phelan, and the actors shoot using the same unspecified brand of digital HD camera throughout the film and the footage is constantly smudged with leaking light, lens flares, and the digital noise created by shooting in bad natural lighting. It’s convincingly novice and rarely attractive. The unaltered white balance leads to some blown-out highlights, but also keeps the black contrasts nice and deep, which helps ensure that deep-set textures and patterns are crisp and tightly separated. When not overrun with digital noise, of course. Other details are obscured by the camera’s autofocus feature. Daylight images are particularly warm, including a lot of yellow/orange skin tones, golden browns (dead leaves, tree bark, earth), and over-amped white skies. Forest greens and more vibrant articles of clothing escape this bright void and are quite vivid. The nighttime images are dark, dull, and grainy. Details here are smeared in blackness and the colours are impure, but the most vital elements are still clear enough to not hurt the film overall.

Audio


Willow Creek is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound that sticks strictly to the limitations of a single mic set-up (either on camera or in an actor’s hand). By the time Goldthwait and the sound designers are willing to get a little more stylish with the stereo and surround channels, they stuck to these limitations so long that the suspension of disbelief is thoroughly engaged. The audio is roughened by air flowing over the mics, muffled by camera placement, and rarely tweaked to capture every little sound available. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to discern dialogue or hear the supposedly spooky noises that keep our protagonists awake at night. Eventually, the creepy sounds get more intense and are given vague directional support or at least a stronger sense of separation. Besides the songs the local yokels play for the camera and an end credit punk song, there is no music or score.

 Willow Creek

Extras


  • Commentary with Goldthwait and actors Alexie Gilmore & Bryce Johnson – This is a valuable commentary to those of us that weren’t able to connect with the film. The tone is expectedly light and often funny, but also affords Goldthwait a chance to describe what he was trying to do with the film between fun anecdotes from the actors. His intentions seem to have been split between making an affectionate documentary about the people of Willow Creek/people that believe in Bigfoot (he counts himself among them) and making an entertaining horror film. This actually explains the film’s listless nature. The charm of the track makes me wish I had enjoyed the film more.
  • A deleted scene featuring Cliff Barackman of Finding Bigfoot (4:30, HD)
  • The Making of Willow Creek (11:30, HD) – Behind-the-scenes footage shot by actor Bryce Johnson.
  • Trailer


 Willow Creek

Overall


I was invested in enjoying Willow Creek and tried very hard to understand exactly what writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait was trying to achieve, but the final product doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t do much to discern itself from an already busy field and, like far too many found footage horror flicks, it builds to a payoff that never really arrives. Dark Sky’s Blu-ray is limited on the audio/visual front, due to the film’s purposefully rough qualities, but features a really fun and informative commentary track that might convince some detractors to give the film a second chance.

 Willow Creek
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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