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June 13, 2014

Willow Creek

by Franz Patrick


Willow Creek (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

A firm believer that Bigfoot actually exists, Jim (Bryce Johnson) invites his girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), to go on a camping trip with him to Shasta-Trinity National Forest and find the area where Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin supposedly captured Bigfoot on film in 1967. Along the way, they interview residents of Willow Creek, the Bigfoot capital, and a few give caution that the couple ought to stay away from the woods. After all, bears, mountains lions, rattlesnakes, and other creatures roam free there.

If “Willow Creek” had been released right before Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ highly influential “The Blair Witch Project,” people would likely to have believed that it was indeed a real found footage film. Supernatural elements are kept at a bare minimum. Some might argue there is no supernatural element at all. The picture may not have very many scares but once it reaches the climax, its sharp claws do not let go of our attention.

I am referring to the exemplary tent scene where the take appears to go uninterrupted for about half an hour. It is so simple but extremely effective: Two people woken up in the middle of the night, clearly out of their depths, by strange noises in the woods. First they hear knocking sounds from afar. Kelly, a Bigfoot non-believer, claims it is only a prank.

But then the knocking sounds get closer. They hear rustling near the tent. Kelly starts to get anxious. She sits in the dark, her eyes wondering if she had been wrong to doubt this whole time. Jim’s eyes, too, wonder if he had made the wrong decision to invite his girlfriend. If things did not go well in the next few hours, the body count would be two.

The scene inside the tent reminded me of Chris Kentis’ highly underrated horror film “Open Water.” Like that gem, the focus is on two people stuck in a very scary place. They know that a threat is out there but nothing else. How many are hunting them? When will they strike? Will they make it through the night?

With such a short running time, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait is aware that he must be efficient in telling his story. And he is. There is a defined rising action in a form of comedy. That is, the quirky interviews with the townsfolk who make a living selling various Bigfoot merchandises. I also enjoyed the silly debates between Jim and Kelly in the car. They sound like a real couple on a getaway.

Subtract the final thirty to thirty-five minutes, Goldthwait has created a good travelogue. As I watched the pair eat a Bigfoot sandwich, it occurred to me that I would like to visit Willow Creek, California some time. I would, however, stay far away from the forest. I am not camping person anyway.

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