Article By: Dan Clark
Bobcat Goldthwait has proven himself as a comedic voice for nearly thirty years as a standup comic, actor, writer, and most recently as a director. As a director he has shown he is willing to take his satirical comedy in some dark and twisted places, but never relies on sheer shock value to get laughs. With micro budget films like World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America he brought a different perspective to some rather hard issues.
His latest film Willow Creek enters him into the new territory of found footage horror. There are many that will checkout by the mere mention of found footage. It is certainly a technique that always requires a certain level of conceits, and how those conceits are handled tend to determine how well the film succeeds. Goldthwait shows he has a surprising strong grasp of the genre as Willow Creek does not rely on the typical horror bells and whistles. However, he is beholden to the slow burn conventions to a fault. By the time things get moving it is difficult to not already be checked out.
At first it appears to be more of a mockumentary than documentary. Jim (Byrce Johnson) is a Big Foot enthusiast who travels to Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California to capture footage of the mysterious creature. Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) his skeptical girlfriend joins him as they set off to make their own version of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin footage from 1967. They soon find the town is not as welcoming as they expected, and that some mysterious are better left unsolved.
The first two thirds consist of Joe and Kelly traveling around the tourist trap town that is Humboldt County, California. Big Foot to them is what Mickey Mouse is for Disney Land—this iconic figure that is both highly regarded and exploited for material gain. Goldthwait does find enjoyment in the dichotomy of the region. Interviewing what feel like authentic locals about their Big Foot sightings, but finding out not all bye into the legend. There is some mocking of this community that seemingly is willing to ignore logic and scientific facts. These scenes provide a few chuckles here and there, but they lack the sharpness you’d expect from Goldthwait.
Part of the reason is Jim and Kelly are both lacking as characters. They are mainly defined by their relationship to the creature of Big Foot—one has been fascinated by the phenomenon since he was a child while the other thinks this is all a tad bit silly. There is nothing about them that is all that interesting, and the performances are about what you would expect for this type of movie. Seeing them meandering around a dead-end town felt realistically depicted. So much so it was rather boring to witness.
Once they enter the isolated Six Rivers National Forest the tension does finally begin to rise—starting with the typical strange local threatening them to leave or face some rather serious trouble. This all leads to a brilliant twenty-minute sequence inside a confined tent. Goldthwait uses little more than sound and the petrified faces of his actors to elicit true fear. Mystery and the all important factor of the unknown are all that is needed to raise every hair on the back of your neck. A face new to the genre uses some great old-school tactics and welcomed restraint. He keeps the anticipation going by never allowing reprieve, never giving complete answers, and gradually upping the ante slowly but surely.
In one single twenty-minute long take he almost makes the entire film worth the wait—almost. Found footage films tend to never know how to end, and this is no different as it ends with an image that may shock but provide little awe. You have to credit Bobcat Goldthwait for his wiliness to expand his rapture and experiment with new genres. Unfortunately not all experiments are successful.