It’s hard to understand how some films get as much festival love as they sometimes do. Perhaps after watching 40 films over the course of a week, the line between good films and bad films begins to blur. Maybe sleep deprivation kicks in and discerning critics become less … well, discerning. Whatever the reason, it seems impossible to understand where the hype for Willow Creek, a new independent horror film directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, has come from. The film is eighty mostly-tedious minutes that are absolutely devoid of any real scares until its final ten minutes. By then, you will be so perturbed that you bought into the hype machine singing the praises of this film that you won’t care how it ends.
Jim is obsessed with Bigfoot. He knows all the historical lore about the mythic creature and wants to follow in the footsteps of the men who shot the infamous footage of Bigfoot walking along a riverbed that so many of us have seen in books over the years. To celebrate Jim’s birthday, he and his girlfriend, Kelly, decide to head into the heart of Bigfoot country and go exploring in the woods on their own. All horror movie fans know this is a big mistake.
It’s only a matter of time until something goes very wrong. How much time? About 65 minutes of the film’s 80-minute run time. More than half of the film is spent with Jim and Kelly shooting footage of each other puttering around Bigfoot town, looking at all the kitschy merchandise and memorabilia and interviewing people on the street about the existence of Sasquatch. It’s about as exciting as watching old home movies of your grandparents’ trip to Branson, Missouri.
If you market your movie as an indie horror film, an implied contract between viewer and filmmaker is formed. The filmmaker tries to create a scary atmosphere and genuine suspense, and the viewer overlooks the budget constraints on the filmmaker and focuses on the film’s originality and not its lack of an expensive Hollywood gloss. Willow Creek breaches that contract in every way. It is neither suspenseful nor scary. Those beef jerky commercials where folks play ill-advised pranks on Bigfoot are scarier than just about any moment in this film.
Willow Creek also fails as a character drama because the two leads are so blandly written. They kid around with each other, act California cool, mug for the camera and exchange pointless dialogue. With one brief exception, the young couple never has a meaningful conversation with one another. We never learn enough about them to become invested in their fates. Don’t blame the performances of Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore. They are simply given nothing interesting to do.
The found footage genre that was established by The Blair Witch Project in 1999 has mostly run its course. Jittery first-person camera work has become so ubiquitous that third-party camera point-of-view is now the novelty. I’m not sure why Willow Creek felt the need to employ the shaky-cam approach. Nothing is gained from the technique. It’s just the indie thing to do these days. For truly frightening proof that the found footage horror genre isn’t dead yet, check out Afflicted (2013) from writers/directors Derek Lee and Clif Prowse. If you’ve already seen it, take the rental money for Willow Creek and see Afflicted again.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.