Bobcat Goldthwait directed a “found footage” horror movie about a couple searching for Bigfoot called Willow Creek. Why should you care about that statement? Go and watch World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, come back, and re-read my statement. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
See? Now do you understand? Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the most interesting filmmakers in the game today, and his newest release marks his first adventure into the horror genre. While it’s no surprise that Bobcat also works a belly full of laughs into his hairy screenplay, the real surprise is Goldthwait’s true appreciation of the horror genre, and his ability to hold us breathless for minutes. This is a man who has been Squatchin’ before, who has attended Bigfoot conventions, and who seriously believes in the gigantic creature – which shines through in his passion-filled heart-stopper. There’s a reason locals aren’t too keen on “Messin’ with Sasquatch” – and it ain’t because of Jack Link’s Beef Jerky.
Our “found footage” tape follows young couple Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) as they take a fact-finding trip to Willow Creek, where Jim hopes to encounter his long-time obsession – Bigfoot. Kelly isn’t a believer herself, but being the wonderful girlfriend she is, she accompanies Jim deep into the fabled forest in search of the Patterson-Gimlin video site, one of the most famous pieces of Bigfoot evidence. Jim starts by interviewing the locals, who of course warn him about going in search of Sasquatch. Jim and Kelly press onward anyway – but will their efforts shed any new light on the urban legend?
In proper Bobcat fashion, Willow Creek is nothing like the “found footage” film you’d expect. Starting out like a jovial little comedy about Bigfoot obsessed believers, Jim and Kelly have fun talking to real-life enthusiasts, eating “Bigfoot burgers” and visiting the official Bigfoot museum. The contrasting views between Jim and Kelly provide an expected dosage of comedy, with Kelly busting Jim’s chops every chance she gets, and our two actors play along with the locals extremely well. Throughout the first half of Goldthwait’s film, we aren’t kept on edge in the least, as we’re able to relax and have fun.
By putting us at ease, the second half of Willow Creek becomes even more nerve-racking, as Bobcat terrorizes us with a technically astounding yet inevitable “shit hits the fan” moment. It’s a complete tonal transition that’s captured by a single 19 minute take, which relentlessly assaults viewers with the most simplistic horror delivery possible. We’re stuck watching this long take, just waiting for the inevitable as Jim and Kelly cower in their flimsy tent, hearing twigs snapping, sticks banging, vocalizations – everything that suggests something is creeping closer and closer. While this is everything we’ve seen before, or even experienced on a camping trip, the unflinching nature of Goldthwait’s fixated camera has us waiting for a grand moment where some monster collapses the tent (or something along those lines), keeping us anxiously waiting, and waiting, teasing Bigfoot’s arrival. Goldthwait orchestrates an ingeniously ambitious game-changing scene, transforming the outdoor excursion from jovial to dreadfully horrific, using nothing but a single camera and impending doom over a period of time that becomes dangerously hypnotic.
From here, Willow Creek gets right to the point, doing something horror films rarely do – show characters with common sense. After a night full of anxiety and fear, Jim and Kelly wake up and immediately decide to leave. This isn’t a Paranormal Activity movie where there’s “Night 1,” “Night 6,” “Night 18” – no. In Willow Creek, there’s “Night 1,” followed by our characters determining finding this mythical creature isn’t worth their lives. Don’t worry, things obviously take a turn for the worst, as the dense forest presents a navigational challenge, but Goldthwait wastes absolutely none of his audience’s time, starting with some laughs, and then punching the genre portion into overdrive.
Providing my only gripe, in flooring the gas on his horrormobile, the end actually flies at us a bit too quickly. The long take builds Sasquatch-inspired tension so well, and we’re expecting more of a fight from our outdoorsy protagonists, but out of nowhere we hit an incredibly abrupt ending that acts more like a question mark than exclamation point. How can I explain this – Bobcat presents the ending Willow Creek needed, but it’s not the ending that will win over all audiences. Ending in a brash, chaotic, and rapid fashion, it’s hard not to want a cleaner ending for Jim and Kelly’s unique vacation, but because everything happens so fast, none of Goldthwait’s previous material is harmed in the process.
Willow Creek, or as Bobcat referred to it, “The Blair Squatch Project,” isn’t your typical “found footage” horror film, blending comedy and horror in a way only Goldthwait’s personal style can accommodate. One minute we’re laughing, and the next we’re held breathless, as Bobcat takes us deep into the beautiful Willow Creek woods in search of answers, fame, and personal gratification, but instead we find fist-clenching horror and delicious suspense. Willow Creek is the horror movie Bigfoot deserves, as Bobcat Goldthwait strikes cinema gold once again.
Willow Creek is a shocking mix of comedy and horror that makes Bobcat Goldthwait's first foray into horror a uniquely rewarding one, giving Bigfoot the proper cinematic feature that such a legendary creature deserves.