I have a strong dislike for found footage horror movies. The sub-genre is a cheap and easy way for directors with small budgets (and no talent) to make films. It’s often used as a way to cover-up gaping plot holes and a poor understanding of storytelling (usually the total lack of a final act). However, I was really impressed with Willow Creek – and the film is up there with the gold standard.
Bobcat Goldthwait’s horror sees a young couple (Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson) as they visit the site of the infamous Patterson–Gimlin Bigfoot film in California. Along the way the couple make fun of the local Bigfoot lore, bicker and act like a regular couple. Then they head deep into the woods… and that’s when things begin to go wrong.
Goldthwait knows what most found-footage filmmakers don’t – that you need to care about your protagonists. Many horror films don’t do this, meaning that as an audience you simply don’t care what happens to them, but the former Police Academy star creates realistic characters that end-up in a horrific situation. Now, this isn’t a monster-movie, it’s a spine-tingler that relies on tension – and oh, what tension. The centre-piece of Goldthwait’s film is a 19 minute extended take which focuses on the faces of Gilmore and Johnson as they listen to mysterious noises in the night. This sequence holds the attention because it features great performances and some wonderful tension. Goldthwait’s previous films (Sleeping Dogs Lie, World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America) have all been pitch-black comedies, but he really shows his skill at directing horror. It’ll be interesting to see how he tackles other genres.
It has been fifteen years since the release of The Blair Witch Project, and since then there have been many movies which use the found-footage aesthetic. Many of these films get the basics wrong (important things like script and acting), so the only thing that’s left is a lot of people running around in the dark as the camera shakes. Bobcat Goldthwait however gets these basics right. Sure, the premise isn’t that original but the strong acting and an understanding of horror conventions mean that this has a lot to recommend.
The DVD of Willow Creek comes with some behind-the-scenes odds and ends, a few interview pieces and footage of the films screening. A solid package, although it could have been better considering the high quality of the film.