By Simon Miraudo
June 13, 2014
Notorious comic Bobcat Goldthwait, once the bane of any ear-haver’s existence, has been steadily building a solid career for himself as a director, but whodathunk a mostly terrifying mockumentary would wind up bettering his black comedies? His 2009 cult favourite World’s Greatest Dad boasted an incredible first act, only to falter in its final frame, while his last film, ultraviolent screed God Bless America, only worked in fits and starts. Unbelievably, his clever found footage flick Willow Creek is his most consistent effort yet. Calling it ‘consistent’ makes it seem simply serviceable, and it’s more than that. In fact, it’s damn good. Believe it.
The feature spurts to life with Bigfoot fanatic Jim (a bro-y Bryce Johnson) toying with his camera, testing the audio levels while his actress girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) drives them towards the mountainous Humboldt County in California. This is her birthday gift to him: acting as accomplice on Jim’s long-awaited venture to the site where Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin recorded supposed footage of a Sasquatch back in 1967. In town, they interview the eccentric locals – actual Bigfoot “experts,” unaware they’re being grilled by imposters – before trudging into the wilderness. They’re warned to keep away by an imposing hill-person – is there any other kind? – however, Jim cannot be deterred. The duo hikes ever deeper, encountering strange goings on that delight Jim and horrify Kelly, who, let’s admit it, is the brighter of the two.
Willow Creek will garner many comparisons to The Blair Witch Project, what with its structure of cocky investigation/campsite spookery/chilling final image. If anything, maybe Willow Creek is lacking much of a build to its big finale; it’s alarming how quickly things go wrong for Jim and Kelly upon entering the Bigfoot zone. What Goldthwait’s feature really has going for it is genuinely impressive lead performances, particularly from Gilmore. The picture pivots around a lengthy single-take sequence filmed from within their tent, with strange “vocalisations” and wood-block bashings occurring around them, circling closer. Running for maybe ten minutes and seeming like an eternity, the unbreaking tension builds to a magnificent crescendo, and when the tears eventually start streaming from the previously sceptical Kelly, the audience has become entirely enraptured by what is surely the most lo-fi trickery imaginable.
Willow Creek also benefits from the strong emotional drama at its core. As the trip progresses, we discover greater and greater divides between Jim and Kelly; two people who couldn’t be on two more different pages. When Jim finally admits, “I f***ed up,” you can’t help but imagine him describing both their current predicament and all the ways in which he took for granted and misread their relationship. The two of them were doomed long before they even set foot in Willow Creek. It’s a break-up movie, really; just one in which a mysterious monster assists in the breaking.
Willow Creek played the Sydney Film Festival.