Willow CreekReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/14/13 19:56:39
SCREENED AT THE 2013 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON: Ever since "The Blair Witch Project" kickstarted the boom in found-footage horror a decade and a half ago, there's been a tendency to make the form ever more elaborate, until the likes of "Cloverfield" and "Trollhunter" are basically special effects blockbusters in disguise. Every once in a while, though, someone strips the form back down to its roots, and Bobcat Goldthwait does a damn good job of it with "Willow Creek".Willow Creek, as those who know their cryptozoology will tell you, is the town closest to Bluff Creek, where the famed Patterson-Gimlin film of Bigfoot was shot in 1967. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a firm believer that there are Sasquatches in the woods; his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is not. She's a good sport, though, so when Jim wants to spend a weekend camping in those woods, the city girl goes along, helping him shoot video of both the town and the wilderness.
Goldthwait appears to be a genuine Bigfoot enthusiast, which may explain why the people of Willow Creek (where Bigfoot is a cottage industry much like UFOs are in Roswell, New Mexico) were generally willing to play along, with Gilmore and Johnson the only actors playing roles as Kelly and Jim wander around town, meeting up with local "experts" and eccentrics. It gets the audience that doesn't know anything about the legend up to speed in a manner that is respectful and irreverent - the believers are given their due, with Kelly's willingness to crack a joke a fun complement to Jim's unbridled enthusiasm.
This also gives them a look at what kinds of people the pair are, what their issues are, and the like. They're an enjoyable pair, coming off as completely natural in their mostly-improvised interactions with the locals and each other. Neither they nor Goldthwait injects a whole lot of relationship issues into the story, so things don't get too high-pitched until they head into the woods. Before that, there are lots of fun little moments like Jim becoming a sort of jocky extrovert when Kelly tells him to be himself on camera or her giving him the sort of withering "I like you a lot but, really, don't push me much further" look on occasion (though she's still able to be plenty playful as the voice of reason).
Eventually, of course, they get into the woods and give the audience what they came for, and it's pretty terrific. There's the usual selection of possible movement in the corners of the screen and scary sounds for build-up, but the centerpiece of the movie is perhaps the exact opposite of what's typical: A static shot of Jim & Kelly inside their tent while something is going on outside. There are more active scare sequences in the movie, and they're darn good, but it's the shot that doesn't end and doesn't move that gets the audience, as Johnson and Gilmore do a fantastic job of reacting to what's going on outside, maybe changing what they've been thinking, and being so convincingly frightened that it starts to be contagious. Plus, the shot runs so long that the audience starts getting nervous - they've got to cut to something now, or have something actually make its way into the tent, right?
How (or whether) things go on from there would be telling, but it's worth mentioning that Goldthwait does an impressive job of not cheating with the found footage conceit: There's usually a very good reason for the camera to be turned on at a given moment, the characters don't concentrate on the camerawork when they should be running, and there's a nice sense of them shooting what they imagine as a documentary in the style of a home movie, because that's the level amateurs operate on. Goldthwait also manages to pace and edit a tight movie without it feeling edited.Above all, though, "Willow Creek" just gets the job done - set-up that's enjoyable to get through on the way to a movie that cranks the tension up expertly. I felt a good kind of keyed-up while watching it, wanting to know what was going to happen next. There aren't many better reactions one can have to this sort of movie, and managing it when everything is so stripped-down makes it more impressive.
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