Toronto After Dark 2013: Willow Creek Review
In the latest venture from former comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, we’re given yet another attempt to recreate The Blair Witch Project. Sadly, you can’t remake lightning in a bottle. Though it manages some moments of genuine tension, it starts too slowly, and ends too abruptly. What we’re left with is a film that’s great in theory, but can’t quite bring it together for a solid finish.
Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a believer. Not in God, or vampires, but in Bigfoot. His girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), is not. A devoted couple, Kelly decides to accompany Jim on his trip deep into the heart of Bigfoot territory, home of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin footage. What they find, however, may be more than they’d bargained for.
Willow Creek attempts to showcase the found footage genre as realistically as possible, with minimal edits. The fact of the matter is that untouched found footage is boring. The beginning is full of forceful exposition, and it slogs along, berating you with proof of its realism. It’s a tiresome and lumbering onslaught of shaky cam that could very easily rock you to sleep.
It isn’t until night falls that the minimal editing becomes potent. All of Kelly and Jim’s time in their tent is captured in a 19 minute long-take divided by one cut around the ten minute mark. The result is beautifully orchestrated tension, with the natural ebb and flow that occurs in the woods. You hear a cracking branch, it shocks you awake, your heart racing. You know there’s an animal in the woods near you. Enough time passes, and your pulse levels out. You calm down just in time for another inhuman noise to jolt you awake. Sleep is impossible. Throw in the possibility of a Sasquatch, and its potential lethality, and your pulse will surely race.
The film coasts on the strength of its lead actors, as it should with them at the center. Goldthwait’s casting was spot on. Johnson and Gilmore have a natural way with each other, one that helps emphasize the believability of their incredulous situation.
In spite of its strength, the film ends just as you start to take an interest. It ends like the dip on a roller coaster – it sets up the anticipation of a fall, and plummets before you can catch your breath. I’m not sure how it could have been handled differently, and it did leave me wanting more. But, in the end, it left me more frustrated than satisfied.