[Review] ‘Willow Creek’ Breathes Life Into Found Footage & Bigfoot!

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Bobcat Goldthwait’s new film Willow Creek is a marvel. It’s a found footage movie, a somewhat tarnished word in genre films nowadays, that actually manages to be scary, suspenseful, and innovative. It’s no surprise, however, when considering what a provocative filmmaker Bobcat* has proven himself to be over the years. Whether it’s a movie about oral sex on a dog (Sleeping Dogs Lie), Robin Williams cashing in on the autoerotic asphyxiation death of his son (World’s Greatest Dad) or a terminally ill man gleefully murdering repugnant symbols of the U.S. (God Bless America), the filmmaker has consistently pushed the constraints of the black comedy into darker depths. When it was announced he’d be taking on Bigfoot in a found footage movie, the only thing to expect was the unexpected.

And that’s exactly what Bobcat has delivered with Willow Creek, a movie that not only manages to be a genuine scare, but also an endearing ode to Bigfoot mythology and the colorful characters who embrace the alleged beast. Bobcat is a self-proclaimed Bigfoot enthusiast and it shows in the film. He’s not laughing at the real-life citizens of Willow Creek, the Bigfoot capitol of the world, as they tell their personal yarns about the creature (or sing about it). This love of the subject matter elevates the film’s realism and its suspense later on.

Our guides through Bigfoot country are Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), a young couple who travel to Willow Creek so Jim can feed his lifelong love of the Bigfoot myth. For the first half of the film, Jim interviews locals (presumably for an amateur documentary) while Kelly begrudgingly goes along for the ride. She scoffs at the legend every chance she gets, though she must find something endearing in Jim’s love of it, or else she wouldn’t be tagging along. The locals they meet are a mix of the charmingly bizarre and shockingly normal, but whether they believe in Bigfoot or not, there’s no doubting this town takes the legend very seriously.

The suspense kicks in during the second half, when Jim and Kelly head deep into the surrounding forest in search of the spot where Roger Patterson and Rob Gimlin captured their infamous Bigfoot footage back in 1967 – 18 seconds of film that have sparked nearly 50 years of debate. The manner in which Bobcat builds up suspense is the very definition of slow-burn. During a nearly 20-minute long static take, the couple is terrorized in their tent in the middle of the night by god-knows-what. This remarkable sequence has some of the most effective sound design in a horror flick I’ve experienced in a while. I think everyone should go into this movie fresh as possible, so I won’t give any more details about the aural barrage that goes down. It is a brilliant and downright creepy sequence though.

What also helps makes Willow Creek so suspenseful in parts is that Jim and Kelly are incredibly likable. After spending the first half of the movie listening to their (believable) patter and talk about their aspirations, we want them to survive the night. One of the biggest problems in horror nowadays is the unlikable characters with absolutely no chemistry that we’re supposed to root for just because they’re getting killed (hey, just like in that other Bigfoot found footage movie Happy Camp that came out recently!). Spending the time to make us care about this couple is one of the wisest choices Bobcat made.

The suspense and atmosphere of dread lead up to an abrupt climax that is going to confuse the pants off of many. It reminded me of Enemy‘s sudden ending, a recent example of how to leave an audience wondering what the hell they just saw while also changing how they think about the movie. Willow Creek‘s closing minute baffled me as well, but after a quick Google search, I was satisfied to learn how it fits into the larger Bigfoot mythology. The ending, however, is a bit too abrupt for my tastes. After building up such a cool landscape with fun characters, to have it end as quickly as it did was kind of disappointing. The insane ending is wholly amazing, I just wish they had spent more time getting there.

Willow Creek proves that the life hasn’t been completely drained from found footage. It’s mix of charismatic characters, real Bigfoot lore, and atmospheric suspense (that sound design!) creates one helluva entertaining and scary ride. In my opinion Bobcat can take on any genre in any form after this one.

* In writing, the standard approach is to typically write out someone’s whole name first, then when you refer to them again, just use their surname. But it’s way too hard not to refer to the dude as just “Bobcat.”

Official Score

  • Jim

    I thought it was fairly well done, though perhaps a bit too reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project at times. I grew up loving the big hairy guy, staying up late to watch pseudo-documentaries and movies like The Legend of Boggy Creek so this had a bit of nostalgia for me.

    The leads are quite likable, especially as we delve into their personal lives (you know the guy is a big bigfoot geek when he proposes to her… in a tent… at night… in the middle of night… with the camera rolling) – yet it makes them all the more endearing which, in turns, makes the suspense work because you actually like them.

    And yes, that was one long, effective take with them sitting in the dark listening to the noises. I kept wondering when and where the next one would come from. Very effective.

  • Anthony Gulino

    this movie was utter shit…..All i keep hearing about is the tent scene..yeah it was OK but what wasnt OK was the 70 minutes preceding the tent scene of mind numbing boredom… Reminiscant of Blair Witch Project ???hell yeah it was..The problem with that the gags that worked in the 90′s are old and stale today, Founf Footage has eveolved over the years and what worked in 99 doesnt cut the mustard today, not only has the genre evolved but so has the audiences..
    I know theres gonna be these hipster movie snobs that think there somehow “in the know” on this one and we regular folks “just dont get it” and Willow Creek is not for everyone..
    I call bullshit..it was boring and boring and the tent scene or the ending couldnt save it…Too little way to late…I’m perplexed who can actually defend this stinker with a straight face..

    • Travis

      Agreed. I wish it was more like Blair Witch. They just get lost in the woods, they don’t even find scary shit or something. I like a lot of horror movies people hate, but this was soooo boring.

  • Jim

    Though I saw a good bit of fault with the film, I couldn’t help but like it. I really ejoyed the shots of the film. The wilderness settings were all superb. There were good bits of tension that kept (me) intrigued. The tent scene was effective (though I think in repeat viewings it will feel way drawn out). I’m a rare breed that likes the found footage films, so I was eating this movie with a spoon.
    I kept asking, why they 1) did not have a gun (simple one for emergencies, especially if you know bears and mountain lions are around) 2) why no GPS. They are not that expensive and a no brainer.
    Ignoring that, I felt the first 3rd of the movie was a bit redundant with the interviews and could have been used for more time in the woods. Some of the dialogue between the couple felt redundant and cliche. Him saying “I believe in bigfoot”, to her “well I don’t believe in bigfoot”, X 20-30 times.
    Those compaints aside, I did enjoy the movie and will probably pick it up on bluray when available. I wish there were more bigfoot movies.
    SPOILER ALERT
    I was upset seeing, or lack there of, bigfoot. What you see at the end was rather hilarious though.

  • J Jett

    so (going by what i’m reading below) is the really only good or scary-ish part of the movie the tent scene w/ the noises?

    • Travis

      Yes, but it’s not scary at all. Usually I would say it’s worth one watch, but honestly I was sooo bored. I just kept waiting like, “it’s Bobcat, it’s gotta be decent,” but no. I know everyone talks shit on here, but I can get into most horror movies.

      • J Jett

        Travis, thanx for the heads up!

  • eagleye25

    This movie is the exact opposite of what is described above.

  • Travis

    I don’t even see how you can say the tent scene was effective. It was cliche as hell and just a couple sounds here and there. The last 2 seconds are the best, I wish they would have done more with that through the movie. There’s just nothing visually striking or frightening.

  • zigwardScissorHands

    “Breathes Life Into Found Footage”? By doing the same tired things found footage films have been doing since The Blair Witch? “Willow Creek proves that the life hasn’t been completely drained from found footage” It proves it has.

    • Chamber

      Exactly.

  • Josh Batchelder

    Loved this movie!! So good.

  • Chamber

    This movie was horrible. I was going to go into just how terrible it is, but I am not going to waste my time or energy. It was just….wrong on so many levels. If you want to see some annoying broad scream like an idiot, and a dude make all the wrong decisions, this movie is for you. Absolutely horrible.

  • Evan3

    After all of the raves, I am officially excited for this.

  • Jonathan Daniel

    So in the review above, Patrick mentions he did a quick Google search and found how the ending fit in with Bigfoot lore. I’ve done some Googling myself and can’t seem to find anything like what he claims to have found. Has anyone else found information that would help tie up some of the questions I still have? I thought the flick was stellar, but felt just a tad confused by a couple of things I saw at the very end.

  • M M

    Well done but the whole Blair witch style ending was kinda painful. I haven’t found anything on google to explain what he was going for. Any pointers?

  • Miss306

    just finished it…so sooo boring . The tent scene killed me, I kept thinking wow please SOMETHING happen.

  • Wallace Heard

    Just a bad film.

  • Ethan

    One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I agree with most people when I say the tent scene was too long and boring.

  • Luke

    While I can appreciate a good slow burn horror, this was just way too long of a set up for such a disappointing and abrupt ending. It could have been much better than it was.