Friday, 3 October 2014

(22) Willow Creek

Willow Creek
Bobcat Goldthwait // 2013 // 80 mins

It's quite possible that the found footage horror trend has had every ounce of potential and originality squeezed from it, so whenever an upcoming film that uses the technique receives praise I tend to pay attention.

Willow Creek is very much a film of two parts. The first half is made up of the moderately entertaining, regularly cringeworthy, documentarian efforts of amateur filmmaker Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his actress girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) as they visit Northern California in the hopes of learning more about the Bigfoot legend and catching the legendary creature on camera. The couple share an enjoyable chemistry and interviewing actual locals about their real experiences and opinions gives this lacklustre documentary section a little more worth, but there is nothing new here to prevent the build up to the actual horror feeling tired and derivative. The problem is that once the horror does begin, things get even more derivative.

Fifteen years after it's release The Blair Witch Project is still the gold standard of the found footage horror film, and while the majority of successors that use the style are inspired by that film's technique Willow Creek flat out steals entire plot points and set pieces from it. There are unexplained noises in the woods, strangers warning them away, personal possessions strung up in the trees, routes that only lead them in circles etc., etc. While the action itself has been done before, and done better, it still makes for an occasionally effective second half, and this is mainly down to director Bobcat Goldthwait excellently adopting the 'less is more' approach.

The films greatest success is its centrepiece; a near 20 minute single, static shot that sees Jim and Kelly's descent into sheer panic as strange animal sounds close in around them and their tent is seemingly attacked. The long take is sheer captivating brilliance as we are put right inside the tent with them, seeing, hearing and knowing just as little as they do. Goldthwait astutely captures the terror of such a situation and in doing so makes up for his lesser first act, although this scene is clearly the films peak and it fails to maintain this level of fear and suspense.

There is a solid sense of foreboding that runs throughout Willow Creek, but the sudden conclusion offers little payoff. The ending, which in true Blair Witch fashion only carries any weight if you listened closely during the earlier scenes, will certainly arouse many post-film theory discussions, but the decision to raise more questions than it cares to answer will undoubtedly frustrate just as many viewers as it pleases. It borrows too heavily from Blair Witch to feel like its own achievement, but Willow Creek comes closer than many others to actually recreating that sense of real horror.

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