Willow Creek finds life in found footage horror genre
It’s puzzling that Bobcat Goldthwait best known for his comedic career and penchant for black humour decided to create a found-footage horror film like Willow Creek . Especially when by his own admission he doesn’t even like the genre. “I had a number of different ideas but Willow Creek lent itself to the format” he says. “But I’m not a big fan of found-footage horror. You always wonder who the creep is who found [and edited] the footage and was like ‘Oh I’m sorry that your whole family was raped to death.’”
There’s that signature dark humour. But Goldthwait’s distaste for the format — including films like for example the Blair Witch Project — makes Willow Creek a very different type of found-footage flick. Centred on Bigfoot the film tails a young couple (played by Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson) who head to Willow Creek Calif. where the creature was reportedly caught on film in 1967 in the famed Patterson-Gimlin video in search of it. And what they find is initially hilarious: They tumble into the town of Willow Creek where they encounter disbelieving locals and a kitschy Bigfoot industry before embarking deep into the woods to look for Sasquatch.
“I’ve been interested in Bigfoot since I was a little boy” says Goldthwait. “And I believed in it too. I don’t want to live in a world where Bigfoot doesn’t exist. People think it’s funny because I’m an atheist but I believe in Bigfoot.”
Prior to writing filming and funding the film he conducted plenty of research on the big fella. “Before I made the film I put 1400 miles on my car driving all around California checking out all the Bigfoot hot spots and meeting all sorts of people in the Bigfoot community” he adds. “And once I met people in the community I realized they were so misunderstood and I didn’t want to dogpile on them. There’s a pecking order: There’s Comicon people then al-Qaida then Bigfoot people.”
He’s being sarcastic of course and Willow Creek doesn’t pick on Bigfoot believers nor does it recycle tired found-footage conventions. Goldthwait says he strived to make the editing as raw and naturalistic as possible — with many of the cuts happening in-camera meaning scenes only ended when the camera was shut off. In total the film has an astoundingly meager 67 cuts.
Accordingly Goldthwait has produced a found-footage film that feels savagely authentic: Willow Creek is deliberately unpolished but it lets his actors the film’s ruggedly remote setting and heaps of implied terror carry it. And shockingly its long shots amateur camera work and less-than-picturesque setting never feels mundane. “It’s actually the classic beginning of a horror picture” he says. “We stayed at this little camp next to Bluff Creek and there’s no power and your phones don’t work. We saw mountain lions. So it was pretty scary — I wasn’t scared really but I’m also a bit of a misanthrope.”
And it shows both in his screenwriting and what he inflicted on his actors. Its ultimate scene is a gruellingly long 19-minute continuous shot which occurs inside a darkened tent. It’s a pivotal moment for Willow Creek and one that’s equal parts skilful and terrifying. “We weren’t even thinking about how long that scene was” he says. “We thought it was seven or eight minutes but if we hadn’t pulled that scene off we’d be screwed. The actors were so so talented.”
The result? A terrifically accomplished horror flick and one that legitimately scares without bowing to cheap thrills. “I didn’t want to make a film where one girl survives or where audiences are vicariously killing characters because they want them to die” he adds. “My biggest concern was having people believe that the [actors] were a real couple.
“I wanted to see if I could pull off a suspense or horror movie. At the end of the day it was really similar to comedy. You set up expectations then defy them.”