Overview: A young couple seeks evidence of Bigfoot near the filming location of the famed Patterson-Grimlin footage. Jerkschool Productions; 2014; 80 Minutes.
Lessons Learned: Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait, never one to shy toward the conventional, offers an unexpected direction in his found footage Bigfoot experiment: he borrows skillfully from the mainstream. I posit that there are three definitive found footage movies that feed into both the general population’s understanding of the horror format and the recipe for success for like-minded efforts. Here, Goldthwait borrows from each of them.
The First Model: In Willow Creek, we see the same domestic/romantic story misdirection from Cloverfield. Two-thirds of the film is spent centralized on the young investigating couple Jim and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson) and their dynamic is such a funny, charming, and quietly unstable one that the audience’s mind loses track of the inevitable conclusion. True to his comedic roots, Goldthwait provides an opening act that toes the line of hilarity in Jim’s determined fascination and awkward form in interviewing the locals.
The Second Model: We also get in Willow Creek the inherent horror of being lost in the forest, a concept so cleanly presented in the frenetic The Blair Witch Project. The woods are a scary place. Being lost in the woods is a unique type of claustrophobia. Goldthwait and his two-person cast capture it well. The sound of a snapping limb is not in itself that frightening. When contextualized by total darkness and the flimsy protection of a camping tent, the implications can be terrifying.
The Third Model: Willow Creek has a learned, academic understanding of the coldest form of fear. Dread, suspense, not knowing. In this sense, the manufactured tension in this movie is very reminiscent of the Paranormal Activity model. Both movies have an understanding that the goosebump-inducing, toe-curling, breathtaking sort of terror is accomplished by withholding, suggesting, hiding the killer. The jumpy sort of fright that comes with the revelation is what the audience wants, because while jarring, it marks the end of the fear. Horror works best when it doesn’t give the audience what it wants. There is an uncut, extended single-take stretch in this movie where basically, nothing happens. And it is an excruciating and frightening experience for the audience.
The Monster Problem: Going into this, knowing only the concept, it was difficult for me to imagine Bigfoot as a scary entity. The cryptid’s fabled appearance and cultural presence doesn’t lend itself to horror. I don’t even think of Bigfoot as a monster, but that is the function served in this movie, which is, in the most obvious measure, a found footage monster movie. Recently, my friend Diego Crespo wrote about the imperative of writers and directors to practice patience with a monster’s presence in big budget monster movies like Godzilla. Goldthwait proves a similar principle is dictated by small budget, indie monster movies. Willow Creek shows as much of its creature as it needs to, when it needs to, and as often as it needs to. And because of this, Bigfoot might end up being the scariest movie monster of the year.