NOW TV film review: Willow Creek
Ian Loring | On 27, May 2014
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Watch Willow Creek online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE
Everyone’s favourite squeaky-voiced Police Academy cast member Bobcat Goldthwait returns with Willow Creek, which, by a distance, is his most outwardly commercial film yet. After the pitch black comedy of Sleeping Dog, World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, he marks out new territory for himself but in a rather tired subset of horror filmmaking: found footage. Could the transition between genres spark some freshness in the format, or is this a filmmaker trying to play safe in a genre that usually sells a few DVDs at the very least?
Willow Creek tells the story of a couple hunting for Bigfoot but does so in the smallest of ways. Everything about this film screams stripped back and boiled down. In all honesty, this is rather refreshing. With a shorter-than-80-minute runtime and an obviously low budget, Goldthwait seems to understand the genre and realise that less is more on many occasions. While it may be that the budget makes this approach necessary, it makes Willow Creek better than it would have been if it had the money for CG or to cast more recognisable actors.
Much of the film’s success comes down to its two leads, who, for the majority of the film, are the only people on camera. Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson create the film’s production value in their performances; the first half gives us a couple in love, but not in a perfect relationship, and the little cracks are worn well. While this part also gives us a nice sense of verisimilitude, with local residents telling stories about Bigfoot as our leads quietly dismiss them, it is this relationship that really drives the narrative and makes the second half more effective as a result.
Once the film concerns itself with the horror, it is still largely a success, though not without its problems. An extended section is spent with a static shot and just the two leads reacting to noises happening outside their tent. This could threaten to get old quickly but thanks particularly to Gilmore, it doesn’t: the transition from weirded out to anxious to terrified is very well played, her body language and facial mannerisms feeling entirely in keeping with the situation. Johnson goes for more of a deer-in-headlights look, which is less effective (emoting seeming a little hard to come by) but still feels in keeping with the mood. The question of whom or what is making these sounds is revealed at the end with a shot that feels a tad misjudged, while preceding this are 10 minutes of the usual running with the camera and screaming. It’s all a mystery under the cover of night, but it’s well handled.
Overall, Willow Creek works. Scary where it matters, with the terror informed by performance and atmosphere more than jump scares and imagery, this is a decent watch for genre fans. It’s new territory for Bobcat Goldthwait, but he knows his horror.
Willow Creek is available on NOW as part of a monthly subscription of £9.99.