Bobcat Goldthwait has made a masterpiece with his new Bigfoot film, Willow Creek.
After successfully breaking out of his early-80’s Police Academy caricature, Mr. Goldthwait has emerged as an edgy and fearless director of some offbeat films. His latest project, Willow Creek, is the definitive found footage and Sasquatch film, a feat accomplished with a simple set of tools, an engaging and believable cast, and expert sound effects.
To begin with, what better subject for a found footage film than the most famous bit of “found footage” in history, the notorious Patterson-Gimlin film from 1967? Now a classic piece of pop culture that nearly everyone has seen or heard of, this film remains the most talked about bit of “evidence” in Sasquatch lore.
Our protagonist, Jim, is one of those handsome geeky guys, harboring a life-long obsession with Bigfoot, specifically the Pattison film and the mythology around it. He has convinced his girlfriend Kelly to accompany him on a trip to the fabled Bluff Creek area where the film was originally shot. Kelly is the perfectly skeptical foil to Jim’s overzealous excitement, but she dutifully tags along and helps him film his amateur documentary.
The duo explore the rustic town of Willow Creek and it’s dedication to the mythology of Bigfoot. They soak up the local atmosphere, eating Bigfoot burgers and viewing a Sasquatch art exhibit, before clumsily conducting interviews with a few colorful locals. Much credit for the film’s success must go to the completely natural acting of Alexie Gilmore (Kelly) and Bryce Johnson (Jim). They are fully fleshed out real people and it is essential that we believe in them and their relationship in order for the second half of the film to be so effective.
And it works well. The entire film builds slowly to a perfectly executed and seriously terrifying climax. Simplicity is the key here, and as a director, Goldthwait is using all of these tools in the best ways possible. The “found footage” angle is perfect for a story like this, and he builds the tension slowly and carefully, as our happy couple bravely venture into the woods to revisit the site of the famous Pattison-Gimlin film.
There is a twenty minute sequence near the end of the film that had me paralyzed with fear along with our leads, an effect that is masterfully accomplished only with the dynamic use of sound effects and a reliance on how wholly convincing the acting is.
The slow build up of the first hour of the film worked magic to get us to this point, and it is hard for the viewer not to feel as though they are huddled in the tent with Jim and Kelly as they are slowly stalked and terrorized by whatever is out there in the unknown forest.
All around, this is another excellent film to add to the resume of Mr. Goldthwait, and the definitive example of how to use the found footage style effectively.
One last note, I watched the film on my computer in the pitch dark, and felt very intimately connected to the story that was unfolding in front of me. I feel like this may be the optimal way to view this film, and can’t help but wonder if it will play as well on the big screen.
Either way, Willow Creek is slated for a U.S. limited theatrical release starting June 6th, and will be available on DVD in the UK as of today, May 26th!
Grade : A