Willow Creek is found footage done right, with strong characters and a realism that keeps you invested through the slow build to the satisfying conclusion.
“What the hell is this? A Sasquatch found-footage movie for Halloween? What is this guy smoking??” That being besides the point, there is plenty of room in horror for variety. And, like it or not, there are comfortable beds reserved for found footage and Bigfoot in that room.
Willow Creek is not your typical Halloween horror movie, obviously. It really doesn’t even get scary, beyond some fun foreshadowing, until the third act.
But what makes this movie (the first horror film directed by Bobcat Goldthwait) so special is its naturalism and sincerity.
Willow Creek stars Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore as a couple who visit Humbolt County, California, the site of the famous Patterson-Gimli 16 mm bigfootage. Bryce is an unapologetic believer, and he hopes to be the one to capture the next great Sasquatch footage. In fact, he’s pretty much convinced he’s going to. His girlfriend Alexie, however, is an unapologetic doubter, poking fun and complaining during the whole trip.
One of the great dramatic engines at work here is the fact that these two actors have never been seen in anything else before, so the “found” footage is easily believable.
Their connection is one of the things that makes this movie so convincing. The chemistry between the two of them is brilliant. It’s easy to get the feeling that they’re a real couple, and one that have been together for quite a long time. They are affectionate towards each other, lighthearted, frustrated, and having the time of their lives just being together, all at the same time, just like a real couple should be.
Stick with this movie, and let the calm charm you. Sit back and go with it. Chill. This is not a loud, spectacular, effects-filled, anxiety-inducing “thrill ride”.
Have you ever noticed that so many movies these days are described by critics as “a wild ride” or “a spectacular ride”? Suddenly, horror movies have to be compared to rollercoasters, I guess. But I’m just as guilty, because I too dig insane rollercoasters and over-the-top horror. Or is it over-the-top rollercoasters and insane horror? Maybe those critics are onto something.
The first half is all about the couple interviewing the Willow Creek townspeople and taking in the sights. We are treated to bigfoot murals, bigfoot statues (complete with bigfoot phallus jokes), bigfoot folksongs, Patterson-Gimli artifacts, the requisite “turn that fucking camera off” hermit crankypants, and the Bigfoot Burger (which is enormous and looks legitimately delicious).
This first 45-60 minutes is when we really fall for the couple and enjoy them as people, and enjoy them enjoying each other. And one can’t help but side with either the believer or the doubter, depending on your perspective. This is pure relatable accessibility, and total immersion! These are the things that can make found-footage movies great.
Then, boils and ghouls, we get to the scares.
Willow Creek has a remarkable, claustrophobic, and unsettling centerpiece that changes the mood completely. This scene is literally about 7 to 10 minutes long (which, in narrative movie time, is an eternity).
We are in the couple’s tent, illuminated only by a tiny light, the camera never moves, and the only cutaways are brief moments when they turn off and on their tiny light. It’s the middle of the night, and they are reacting to strange noises heard outside the tent.
I try not to be a spoiler, especially a spoiler of the scary, creepy stuff, so I won’t tell you what they hear. But I’ll tease you by saying there was some excellent Sasquatch research done for the film, because what they hear is exactly like what the creature has been documented as sounding like. The rest of the film is what makes it a horror movie. They should have listened to all the warnings those superstitious and silly townies gave them.
If you’re grinding through your own all-night horror film festival, WILLOW CREEK is a good one to watch as a little break between the gorefests. And it definitely has a high re-watchability factor, due mostly to that first hour of very entertaining townie interviews. And the next time you’re in the woods and you hear a sound like . . . those . . . you may want to get the hell out of there. Fast!