USA | 2013 | Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Logline: Armed with a video camera a Bigfoot enthusiast and his supportive girlfriend venture into the same forest territory where the controversial late 60s film footage of Sasquatch was captured.
I like Robert Francis “Bobcat” Goldthwait's style. Known chiefly for his unhinged black comedies, most notably the excellent God Bless America, but also for directing cult television, such as Chappelle’s Show and Crank Yankers, he turns his attention to the sub-genre that everyone loves to hate; found footage. He then throws in one of America’s most beloved myths: Bigfoot. It’s a dangerous mix, but Bobcat pulls it off.
Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot geek, not an expert by any stretch (he doesn’t seem to know exactly what year the infamous 1967 Patterson & Gimlin 16mm footage was filmed). His girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), has tagged along with him to visit Bluff Creek, a sandbar near Willow Creek, in Northwest California. Jim is a firm believer, whilst Kelly is a steadfast skeptic. She humours her boyfriend, acting as camera operator for his video diary. They interview locals, make jokes about a Missing Person notice, and enjoy the hefty Bigfoot Burger.
Following directions from one of the Bigfoot tourist stores Jim and Kelly are confronted by an aggressive local, no doubt a marijuana cultivator, who tells them to get the hell out of Dodge. Jim isn’t about to give up the ghost, since he knows an alternate route. Soon enough they’re at the end of the road and it’s time to don the backpacks. After several hours traipsing through the wilderness, with another hour to go before they reach their destination, Kelly insists they set up tent. Jim is brave enough to skinny-dip in a freezing waterhole. Kelly laughs at her goofy boyfriend.
Someone, or thing, has disturbed their campsite. Kelly is unnerved. Jim is quietly excited. That night they are woken by the sound of wood knocking on wood, and a faint cooing. Or is that a woman weeping? Or is that some kind of strange coyote wail? Branches and twigs are being broken. It’s moving closer …
This scene of Jim and Kelly being terrorised lasts a quarter of an hour. One very long, unbroken take, filmed from Jim’s video camera on a tripod inside the tent. It’s incredibly tense.
Found footage flicks have two main issues that need to be dealt with in order to be taken seriously by the True Believers. The first is: camera battery life duration. Now these days consumer cameras have batteries that can last anywhere from five to nine hours, so if Jim and Kelly weren’t videoing every step of their hike, and Jim had brought a couple of spare battery packs, then its easy to accept the battery situation.
The second issue is: videoing under duress. As their nightmare progresses Kelly descends into the early stages of hysteria. She isn’t capable of maintaining any kind of video documentation. Jim, on the other hand, is a pillar of strength, or appears to be. The movie doesn’t require either Jim or Kelly to be fleeing and videoing at that same time. The shit hits the fan pretty damn quickly.
WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILER!
Which brings me to the movie’s denouement, which worked fine for me. I’m sure this ending will polarise many audiences. Bobcat wisely chooses not to reveal Bigfoot in any graphic way. In fact, Bigfoot doesn’t even get a glimpse. Earlier Jim and Kelly find some bloodied hair caught on a tree root, but that could belong to a bear. Jim and Kelly, huddled together, push their way through the thick undergrowth, aware that something very menacing is very close by. A frightening growl is heard, and something very strong definitely attacks the couple. What does get seen in the light of the camera poses a very intriguing situation: a startling, disturbing close encounter with a filthy, near-naked elderly woman. Followed by brief violent chaos, followed by camera dragged along forest floor, followed by poor Kelly screaming, and several - yes several - subsequent beastly howls in the dark of the forest night.
What the fuck?! Yup. It could be that Mr. Sasquatch may be having inter-special relations with one of its Stockholm Syndrome victims. Perhaps I’m stretching the animal logic a little, maybe not. But this is what I really like about Willow Creek. It’s a dirt-cheap production, filmed very economically, unpretentious, sports two likeable characters, well-acted, some funny dialogue, but best of all, it delivers some genuine nightmare madness into the equation without trying to solve a fifty-year-old mystery. While it might be as scary as The Blair Witch Project, its certainly but much better than the recent, very disappointing The Jungle.