Our West Coast correspondent, Lazarus Jones went to a screening of Willow Creek and here is her review.
Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
I can’t help thinking of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s recent comments the more I see movies this summer. Quick recap, George and Steve were giving a talk to a bunch of college students about how no one wants to back non-blockbusters and the death of small films is nigh. They predicted that television will hold sway on edgier storytelling and films will be like Broadway shows, a specialized event that you pay a huge price for and only a handful a year. I agree that the studio system is bloating itself, but I get the feeling these are two insiders who have been working large too long and maybe don’t know the field as well as they used to. What seems a more likely result is a combination. In the 60’s the studios broke themselves on big budget films no one wanted to see, and smaller, more personal films took over. The major benefit now is the public can afford to make their own alternatives. And thanks to the internet and growing small theaters, can fin an audience.
This might not seem related to a small independent movie about Bigfoot made by an 80’s comedian turned director, but it is. Because the independent scene now allows for directors to make an even more personal films without being pigeonholed into a genre or topic.
Bobcat Goldthwait, director of World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, has a new film out, that takes the director into the horror genre called Willow Creek. It is a found footage film made under the guise of being raw footage of a documentary. The film is being made by a young couple looking to find the location of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage (yes, that footage, the first one you thought of) that was shot in 1967 in Willow Creek, Ca. It is peppered with the real people of the town being interviewed by the two lead actors; Alexie Gilmore as Kelly, the doubter, and Bryce Johnson as Jim, the Bigfoot believer. Besides the actors and director, there were a total of five other people on the crew. And it is very clearly a movie that reflects Goldthwait’s love and interest in Bigfoot legends. Thought of as he took a driving tour to major Bigfoot hotspots in California, the film was shot out at Willow Creek in five days.
The small crew has made a solid found footage film. While where the film is building to seems obvious, it still keeps the viewer in suspense and balances it with an inquisitiveness that is sincere.
The natural comparison for this movie is to the father of the modern found footage movement, The Blair Witch Project. The elements are present; small crew investigates a legend, goes into the woods after it and inadvertently becomes part of the legend. What is great about Willow Creek is since it has root in cryptid mythology, the film takes on a feeling more of Grizzly Man. This isn’t a strange supernatural force, the current choice of the found footage genre. It is a possible animal and the tension built is from knowing that if it did exist, it is a huge and wild thing in the category of bears and mountain lions only with intellect behind it. And since this is an investigation into a real place and real footage, the focus is not just creepy happenings in the woods. Interviews with the people in the town make it educational and a character study. Unlike such films as Blair Witch and even Paranormal Activity, the suspense is rarely just staring the camera sitting, waiting for something to happen. It is meeting these colorful people while knowing disaster must be looming. When that wait does happen does finally happen, it is well earned, since it is a unique event. It is also refreshing that once this occurs, their first reaction is to get the hell out. There is no deliberation of whether something happened and what occurred, it is simply that they should leave.
The editing is used well, there is a natural comedy pace to it initially and allows for us to enjoy the documentary side of the film. Mistakes are left in, as are multiple takes in keeping with the found footage theme. This lends it a stronger grounding, as it feels like we are watching the tape as it was found on the ground. Goldthwait said he wanted it to feel like the tape was just picked up, since he finds found footage films that look edited odd. As he put it, it’s like “ who’s the creep that found the footage and says ‘Sorry your daughter got raped to death but a few edits, we could have a pretty decent film’?”
The sound in the film plays a big part, especially once the couple make their way into the woods. Like any good horror movie, tension is built off what we are unable to see, allowing the imagination to do the heavy lifting. The sound design for the woods is eerie, allowing for us to question whether whatever is lurking around them is human or otherwise. Frank Montes was essentially the entire sound department on the film. He says that the was an extreme amount of freedom to try different noises and tones as they were filming. Johnson agrees, while he was given a script, he describes it as a thirteen page synopsis. Once they started filming, Goldthwait and the actors would feel through the scene until they found a tone they liked.
While Willow Creek could run the risk of feeling typical, It’s Goldthwait’s passion for the material and his personality that elevates it. It is a horror film that also educates and a suspense piece punctuated by human interest stories. Currently it is showing at small engagements but if you get a chance, it’s certainly worth a watch.
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