‘Willow Creek’ is Bobcat’s Bigfoot Blunder
The year is 1977, and I’m about to shit myself.
I am nestled on the couch amidst a dusting of Pop Tart and Cheese Puff crumbs, the scent of a half-eaten Salisbury steak dinner wafting through the air. My folks had gone out for the evening. With only 4 channels on the 19-inch Magnavox to entertain me, I stumbled across a made-for-tv movie called: ‘Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot‘. I’ll just say that it left a strong impression on my ten year old self. One that I would play repeatedly in my over-imaginative young mind during the course of many sleepless nights to come as I lay tucked beneath my Dukes of Hazard sheets. I remember a furry arm smashing through a window, grabbing at an unsuspecting victim sitting on a couch, much like I was as I watched the tale play out on the small screen. It didn’t matter that our apartment sat comfortably within the confines of the concrete jungle in Buffalo, NY, or that I was on the second floor, Bigfoot was going to find me. When you’re ten, the lines between fiction and reality are much thinner, and I had screwed myself royally that night.
My anxiety over becoming Sasquatch’s dinner waned over time, though it took quite a few years before overnight visits to my cousins’ home in the country became less problematic. To this day, Bigfoot remains one of my bugaboos. I don’t believe in the creature, but the stories and movies still freak me out – I’m sure it’s PTSD from that night almost forty years ago.
The Peculiarities of Being one of the World’s only Bigfoot-Phob-O-Philes
I’ve always had a fascination with the Bigfoot mythos, though my skepticism grew over time with no credible evidence surfacing in nearly a half century. I find it difficult to accept any truth of an eight-foot tall ape-man stalking the woods in a time when orbiting satellites can zoom in on what I’m having for dinner. When the most credible evidence still remains the Patterson-Gimlin footage from the 1960’s, the argument loses a bit of oomph over time. Regardless, I enjoy the stories, and I’ll click on news articles proclaiming new evidence when they surface. And then I’ll laugh at the toothless hillbillies that tend to roll out for such events.
Possible Spoilers For ‘Willow Creek’ Exist In This Review
I was excited to hear that writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait was planning to tackle a Bigfoot found-footage film. Bobcat’s dark, comedic sense of humor and slightly abstract film style were certain to bring a fresh look at a horror story that has remained virtually untapped for the better part of the last quarter century. Hopefully it would breathe some life into a stale genre that has overstayed its welcome. I felt his latest film, ‘God Bless America‘, was a brilliant statement on our narcissistic TMZ culture, and I was ready to see what he could bring to this type of film. Then I saw ‘Willow Creek‘, and I immediately remembered seeing it back in 1999 when it was called ‘The Blair Witch Project‘.
I get that films inspire other films and filmmakers, but ‘Willow Creek‘ is so devoid of any originality it begs the question, “What was the point?” I know Bobcat is capable of sharp wit and social commentary in his films, but I can’t figure out what he was trying to accomplish here. I’ll give him some credit that the film looks good, which can be a challenge given the format he chose. The pacing is perfect for the style of film, coming in at a lean 80 minutes. Yet all of this would have served the film exceptionally well, had there been any semblance of creativity to the narrative.
Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot fanatic who decides to retrace the steps of the Patterson-Gimlin team for a YouTube documentary. Along for the ride is his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), a fledgling actress and urbanite that isn’t particularly interested in Jim’s quest, but tags along just the same. After about a half-hour of predictable exposition, including interviews with the locals, personalities running the gamut from annoyed non-believers to stereotypical yokels who warn of the danger in seeking the elusive beast, insert some stock footage of statues and street signs to remind us that we’re in Bigfoot country, and even stop for a Bigfoot Burger at the, wait for it… Bigfoot Cafe. We finally head out into the wilderness in search of the creature. After a brief encounter with an angry hillbilly out in the middle of nowhere, his purpose in the film left for the viewer to decide in the end, Jim and Kelly take to the trail.
Nothing particularly scary happens up until this point. It isn’t until darkness falls, and our couple is nestled sound in their tent before anything really starts. It was at this point that I hoped Bobcat would bring something new to the table. I needed something that would turn the genre inside out, because everything up until now was textbook found-footage creature feature. Unfortunately, what I got was just more of the same schtick. Strange noises, crunching footsteps, an occasional rock getting tossed… but nothing I hadn’t seen before. There is a long, 19 minute uncut shot of Jim and Kelly huddled together inside the tent as all of these shenanigans are occurring around them, and while the tension at times is heightened by the honest reactions of the actors, the intrigue diminishes as the same familiar tropes continue to play out.
Come morning, Jim and Kelly have had enough and are ready to pack it in, but of course they wander around in circles unable to find their way out of the woods. They argue and panic, and when darkness once again starts to settle in, the noises pick up.… chaos ensues… run… run… run… scream… no payoff… credits. You heard that right. No payoff. After nearly an hour and a half of regurgitated genre tropes and ‘seen-it-before’ narrative choices, we get slapped in the face with the annoying ambiguous ending. What did Jim and Kelly encounter in the woods? I guess that’s up to you. At this point, I simply don’t care.
Johnson and Gilmore are game throughout, with Gilmore bringing a little more to the table in the creepier scenes. At times, Johnson feels a bit wooden and gets a little annoying, but in a genre of films wrought with unlikable characters, Jim and Kelly are far less grating on the nerves than most.
If you have no history with the ‘Blair Witch Project‘, you may get a lot more out of this film than I did. That said, I’d recommend watching ‘Blair Witch Project‘ over this. ‘Willow Creek‘ might look aesthetically better, but there’s something more impressive and satisfying about essentially the same story coming from the minds of amateur filmmakers with a micro-budget than what Bobcat gives us here. I’m convinced a good Bigfoot film still exists out there somewhere, but it isn’t ‘Willow Creek’.
2 out of 5
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