There's been a lot of quality buzz around "Willow Creek" since it's festival debut last April. Former comedian and scratchy-voice-in-a-can Bobcat Goldthwait has turned himself into something of a critical darling when it comes to directing smaller, subversive movies with dark comedic sensibilities and, always, something real at their core. "World's Greatest Dad," the 2009 Robin Williams flick about a high school teacher whose life improves when he writes a fake suicide note for his son, who accidentally hung himself while masturbating, springs to mind. He doesn't make perfect movies, but they're always fascinating, funny, and leave you thinking.
And then he makes a found footage movie. About Bigfoot. Color me interested.
I make no secret of my love for the genre. Found Footage might be the cheap, unimaginative entry point for your average straight-to-DVD director looking for their big break (although now it's straight to VOD, I suppose), but it's also where you'll find some of the more impressive, out-of-nowhere, surprisingly fun movies you didn't see coming. Movies like "Afflicted," and "Chronicle" manage to take the tropes of a usually tired genre and make something spectacular with them. Such was the word on "Willow Creek," a simple idea from a growing director that does something new and imaginative with the genre.
They must have been watching a different movie.
"Willow Creek" is a deliberate recreation of the 1999 classic "The Blair Witch Project." The scenario is the same. The act structure is the same. The actual scares are exactly the same. The conclusion, in all its confusing, abrupt glory, is functionally identical. It's actually insulting.
The set up is simple. Complete moron good-looking-generic-white-dude Jim believes in Bigfoot. His gorgeous actress girlfriend, Kelly, does not, but she likes Jim for some reason, so she goes with him to the Bigfoot capital of the world, Willow Creek, to film an amateur documentary about the sight of the infamous 1967 video we've all seen of the dude in the ape costume that Jim is convinced was a real, 900 pound bipedal animal living in the Pacific Northwest.
The first hour is set up. We meet our heroic couple, who, admittedly, have more genuine chemistry and acting chops then you tend to see in flicks of this ilk. Alexie Gilmore, in particular, brings a lot to her performance as the conflicted, good-natured Kelly. And yet, there's no tension. No build up of dread or fleeting glimpses of things "not quite right." It's important that we come to care for these characters, and its obvious that Goldthwait thinks this is essential to enjoying the final third (fifth?) when shit hits the fan, but he needed to multitask. The result is that I do know the characters quite well, but probably more than I needed to, and at the expense of genuine drama or horror.
Then comes the big scene. I won't ruin it here, because people do seem to like this movie and others might come away feeling differently that I, but suffice to say that I was unimpressed. It's a twenty-minute static shot. In an eighty-minute movie. People have praised the sound design, the tight claustrophobia of the shot, but I was simply bored. What's more, it's the "scariest" part of the film, and it's taken directly out of the much stronger "Blair Witch Project," not just the general idea of it, but the entire concept of the scene. It goes on forever, accomplishes little, and seems to be the foundation upon which the whole movie is built. It crumbles rather easily.
Then there's five more minutes of shit you've seen before, then one really weird image that's never explained, and the movie's over. That's it. Learn nothing. See nothing. Understand little. Credits.
How is this a Bobcat Goldthwait movie? It has nothing substantive to say, nor does it have the biting edge you expect. It's not even funny, although the banter between the leads, probably improvised, might score a chuckle or two. How can something from someone so sharp, so witty, and so creative end up such a sterilized, pointless mess? Not only is it disappointing, it's just weird.
"Willow Creek" belongs next to Asylum flicks on the shelf of a ma and pop video rental store. It's cheap, boring, and derivative. "The Frankenstein Theory," a bad, bad movie from the same year, is built around the same ideas, and vastly outperforms this effort. I wouldn't even tell you to watch that, so I'm sure as hell not going to do deviate here. Avoid "Willow Creek." It's terrible.