This isn’t a director using another work as inspiration so much as tracing over the original
Bobcat Goldthwait makes a disappointing turn toward the cliché in Willow Creek, a noticeable departure for the comedian/filmmaker. This time Goldthwait has gone from dark comedy to horror, or more specifically the found footage subgenre, which seems to dominate the genre lately. This time our unlucky characters, doomed to vanish without a trace save for their camera, are Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), a couple heading to the eponymous town of Willow Creek for a weekend getaway. Willow Creek is known as the Bigfoot capital of the world, and Jim hopes to head to the same spot where the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film took place to catch a glimpse of the mythical creature. Kelly, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, and she only tags along out of support for her boyfriend’s nerdy obsession.
Half of the film’s 80-minute runtime dedicates itself to Jim & Kelly wandering around Willow Creek, interviewing locals and enjoying the kitschy things the town has to offer. Goldthwait tries to liven things up by showing some cracks in the couple’s foundation, but does it even matter? These two characters are only here to become eventual Bigfoot food. All they need to do is bring the camera where it needs to go, and because this is a found footage film it doesn’t even matter how they’re holding it. It doesn’t help that Jim & Kelly are immensely unlikable, spending their time mocking and smarmily interacting with different townspeople. The fact that Goldthwait is clearly spinning his wheels in the first half, merely killing time before his characters venture out in the woods, makes Willow Creek’s first half an interminable experience.
By this point it’s obvious how much the film owes itself to The Blair Witch Project, as it goes through more or less the exact same story beats as the found footage classic. There’s an admirable quality in Goldthwait’s attempt to go back to the subgenre’s origins, especially when so many films now use the format as a lazy way to make their horror more “visceral,” logic be damned. At the very least, Willow Creek keeps it simple, sticking with one camera and never betraying the limitations of found footage. No one can argue that the film doesn’t look like an actual video diary of sorts; unfortunately it doesn’t mean the film is better off for it.
Rather than use The Blair Witch Project as a jumping off point, Goldthwait stubbornly sticks to updating a 15-year-old story. This isn’t a director using another work as inspiration so much as tracing over the original, only to remove all sense of mood and atmosphere. There is one exception: a 20 minute single take of Jim & Kelly in their tent, the camera remaining stuck on their terrified faces as mysterious noises outside their tent keep getting louder. It plays to the advantages of found footage and duration that other horror films surprisingly haven’t tried so far, but as far as intensity goes it’s easily telegraphed. Goldthwait’s subdued, simplistic approach to found footage may look better in comparison to the piles of garbage filling up VOD, but it doesn’t mean the film is more innovative or scary. Willow Creek feels like a film that’s shown up to the party over a decade after it ended. In the endless sea of bloody, abandoned camcorders throughout the genre, it’ll take more than this to stand out from the pack.