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Toronto After Dark: “Willow Creek”

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  • Written By: Bobcat Goldthwait
  • Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
  • Starring: Bryce Johnson, Alexie Gilmore

Toronto After Dark: “Willow Creek”

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I never thought I’d be writing about Bobcat Goldthwait’s entry into the found footage genre if only because of how preposterous that sounds, but here we are. Actor/comedian turned dark comedy filmmaker Goldthwait has thrown his two cents into a genre that seemingly won’t die. While his film WILLOW CREEK follows the pattern of the grandaddy of them all found footage horror films,THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, WILLOW CREEK switches a few elements up and we’re left with an intriguing and subtle reinvention of a found footage film.

We follow Jim (Bryce Johnson), a Bigfoot nut who’s headed to the location where the legendary creature has been spotted to shoot his own documentary on the subject. With his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) in tow, the two head to the small town to interview locals and taste the Bigfoot culture. Once they eventually get into the woods, ignoring several warnings from locals, things go from bad to worse. WILLOW CREEK follows a similar structure to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but where The Blair Witch focused itself on the mythos of the legend and the eerie sights and sounds that followed the filmmakers, WILLOW CREEK is much more of a character study.

The first half of the film is spent in the small town with the locals, which provides mostly humorous set pieces with an occasional touch of something ominous. Once the film moves into the woods, we are left with two overall charming characters. The fear that WILLOW CREEK generates is more out of concern rather than terror. Both Bryce and Gilmore are excellent at creating inner lives for their characters and come off as a believable couple. The film also employs relatively few cuts which adds to the relaxed nature of the film. In the film’s climax there is one long, extended take which is played beautifully and is what ultimately sets this found footage horror apart from the others. Rather than being concerned with generating jumps through bumps in the night, Goldthwait is comfortable letting his actors and audience squirm.

The film’s few missteps are when the couple panics and try to get out of the woods, which creates moments straight out of the Blair Witch (ex: We already went by that tree!!) and the chaotic nature that is created in the final moments feels haphazard and unbalanced with the rest of the film. While that energy is an interesting divergence from the rest of the film’s relative calmness, it would have been interesting to have the characters more focused rather than turned into complete reactionaries.

WILLOW CREEK is a fascinating entry into the horror genre. Despite a few very minor hiccups, it is an engaging and fascinating slow burn of a film. The performances are terrific and the emotional empathy generated by the actors is completely earned. Goldthwait proves he has not only an understanding of horror, but a unique take on it. WILLOW CREEK not only convinces us that Bigfoot might exist, but that there are still possibilities yet to be fully explored in the found footage horror genre.

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