Bobcat Goldthwait has proven to be a remarkable director on the feature film scene with titles like World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America. Both of those proved there was something ferocious lurking within him, something with bite that he can only appease by telling these truly warped tales. The aforementioned titles challenged and amused their audience with tough themes; needless to say, after these two films, Goldthwait had my attention.
Willow Creek marks a decided tonal departure for him. And a welcome one at that. Although it doesn't quite have the depth as his previous two feature efforts, the film proves to be a taut exercise in good ol' fashioned "fear of the things that go bump in the night."
The parallels between Willow Creek and The Blair Witch Project are obvious, but the former uses the latter as an inspirational template more than anything else allowing Willow Creek to find its own voice and delivery.
Goldthwait's script introduces Jim and Kelly (the very capable Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore) as they venture off to find the wooded location of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage from the late '60s. Jim is making his own documentary about the hirsute beast and Kelly is there to support/help, in spite of her lack of belief in the cryptozoological celebrity. And if Jim manages to capture a Bigfoot sighting along the way, his trip is considered a win.
Jim and Kelly's dynamic is cute and plausible and we get a taste of this as Jim goes about his business, doing awkward on-camera introductions (Kelly's there to give him pointers) and interviewing the locals. Goldthwait interjects a good dose of humor – some of it arriving organically when the film calls upon real community members and Bigfoot experts (save for John Carpenter regular Peter Jason who we were welcome to see). Overall, he paints a picture of a couple who, while they have their problems (as is revealed), are totally amiable and fun to follow.
This bodes well for us when Jim and Kelly are thrust into "camping mode" and the frights begin. We're not annoyed with them, we don't wish them dead, we kind of actually (gasp!) care about the two of them.
So, Goldthwait has achieved what many fail to do in the found footage arena, further, he manages to use the currently popular storytelling device for some effective scares. There's a terrific 18 to 19-minute take that's incredibly well done – bold, even. Primal and damn creepy, too.
The only fault I level at Willow Creek – and this is simply coming from somone who has seen so many found footage films – is that, well, there's nothing really new about the story. Still, it's an – as I said earlier – excellent exercise for Goldthwait and what he has crafted is infinitely better than most of the "found footage" fare out there.