Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Willow Creek (2014)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

It’s Jim’s (Bryce Johnson) birthday, and as a devout Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) follower and believer, Jim takes a trip to Willow Creek with his reluctant girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore). In Willow Creek, Jim has plans to film his own footage of Bigfoot to follow in the footsteps of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film. In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert “Bob” Gimlin captured footage of Bigfoot in Willow Creek, and Jim is determined to capture the creature on film to justify the risky expedition.

During the trip to Willow Creek, Kelly mocks Jim’s beliefs in Bigfoot, and together, the couple receives a stern warning from an angry local about the dangers of searching for Bigfoot.

Eventually, Jim and Kelly revisit the site of the Patterson-Gimlin film. One night, a series of strange noises and the footsteps of an unknown stalker disturb a peaceful slumber in Jim and Kelly’s tent. Are Jim and Kelly the victims of a cruel prank from a group of disgruntled locals? Or, are Jim and Kelly running out of time and options before the real Bigfoot attacks?

You’ll need a lot of patience for Willow Creek. The terrifying and spooky stuff doesn’t kick until the forty-seven minute mark, when Jim and Kelly are all alone in the tent at night. Before the nighttime tent scene, Willow Creek is loaded with Jim’s one on one interviews and sightseeing trips with Jim and Kelly, as they explore and visit different Bigfoot attractions (paintings, eating Bigfoot burgers, the Bigfoot Motel, etc.).

Do you believe in Jim’s mission to capture footage of the real Bigfoot? Well, if you don’t there’s a good chance you’ll have a hard time sitting through Willow Creek. And that’s my big problem with found-footage films most of the time: you’ll run into a conundrum with your suspension of disbelief mindset. On one hand, you know you’re watching a movie, and it’s not “real.” But on the flip side of that, you have to sit back and convince yourself you’re watching a REAL home movie, documentary, or lost tape, where the primary protagonists experience a series of bizarre, supernatural, or unexplainable occurrences.

With Willow Creek, you have to believe in Jim’s journey to find the real Bigfoot, his motivations, and his unwavering determination to uncover the truth. The problem is, the documentary portion of Willow Creek drags on and on, and nothing happens until the tent scene at night. Well, there’s the one scene of tension, where Jim and Kelly run into the angry local, who warns them about following Patterson and Gimlin’s film, but that’s about it. After a while, the rinse and repeat formula for interviewing locals and sightseeing feels boring and tedious. Willow Creek clocks in at one hour and twenty minutes for an overall runtime, and the scary stuff kicks in at the forty-seven minute mark. Think about that for a second.

I emphasized patience earlier, and you’ll need a lot of patience for the nighttime tent scene towards the end. At night, a series of strange noises and footsteps disturb Jim and Kelly. Jim believes it’s Bigfoot, but Kelly thinks a group of locals are playing a prank on the dumb tourists. But Kelly changes her mind after a loud and abnormal moaning sound. The intruder presses one of their limbs against the tent, but the unknown figure runs away again after Kelly’s screams.  Jim and Kelly survive the night, and in the morning, Jim and Kelly agree to finally leave Willow Creek after all the close calls.

What happens after the tent scene? In the morning, Jim and Kelly realize they’re lost after three hours of wandering around, and passing a familiar tree. Jim picks up a scraggly strand of Bigfoot’s hair with a piece of flesh attached to it, and Jim records Bigfoot’s footprints. But he doesn’t have time to bask in the glory for discovering Bigfoot evidence, because Bigfoot’s roar surprises Kelly, but the couple runs away before Bigfoot has a chance to attack.

At night, a frightened Jim and Kelly are trying to hide from Bigfoot, when they spot a local missing woman (you’ll see a picture of her on a flyer at the restaurant in the early stages of the movie). She’s standing alone half naked, she’s in a petrified daze, and she starts moaning out of nowhere.

Jim and Kelly are stuck in a state of shock, and Bigfoot attacks before Jim and Kelly have a chance to react. Bigfoot mangles Jim, and the camera falls to the ground (you can hear Kelly’s screams in the background). From the camera’s POV, Bigfoot drags the camera, or the camera and Jim together (it’s hard to tell) on the ground, and Kelly continues to scream off-camera. To end the movie, Kelly’s screams are presumably silenced by Bigfoot, and you’ll hear a chorus of moans before the credits start rolling.

The tent scene? It’s a mixed bag for a number of reasons. I’ll tell you this right now, if you’re expecting a shocking  payoff, as the tent scene unfolds, you’ll be disappointed. You will NOT see Bigfoot (more on that later). Instead, you’ll just hear the moans, a kooky “whoop!” sound, and the sounds of knocking wood.

With that said, the tent scene hooked me in from start to finish. Is the real Bigfoot moments away from an attack? Or is Kelly right about a bunch of locals playing a prank? Yeah, you can say the tent scene drags after the first five minutes, and I imagine some will be disappointed by the lack of a close up view for Bigfoot, but overall the tent scene works, because the nail-biting teasing keeps you guessing until the next scene, and I had to know what would happen next every step of the way.

If we're talking about the finale, the audience doesn’t know if Jim is dead or not. You can clearly hear the sounds of Bigfoot attacking Jim, but you never see a shot of his corpse. And we’re unsure of Kelly’s fate. Again, you can hear the sounds of Kelly’s agony in the background, but you won’t see Kelly’s attack/struggle happening on-screen. And the chorus of moans in the dark to the end movie? Creepy stuff.

Director/writer Bobact Goldthwait takes his frist shot at a horror film with Willow Creek, and I appreciate the restrained less is more approach to blood and gore here. In fact, if you take out the one scene, where Jim finds a strand of Bigfoot’s hair with a bloody piece of flesh attached to it, you won’t see any blood and gore in Willow Creek. Goldthwait gives you a chance to think and use your imagination, because you’re thinking about what could’ve happened during the close calls with Bigfoot. Or you’re thinking about the gruesome aftermath, because the attacks are pretty bad, if Goldthwait refuses to show them on camera, right?

As far as Bigfoot goes, you will not see the creature (well, the answer is a reluctant yes, if you count the paintings and the statue) in this film. Not once. You’ll see footprints, you’ll hear the roars, and you’ll see a shot of bushes moving with a hidden Bigfoot, but that’s it. Again, I don’t have a problem with Goldthwait’s less is more approach for Bigfoot, because he did a good job maintaining Bigfoot’s mystique. When you actually see Bigfoot, that’s it. You immediately kill your chances for genuine scares and surprises, because there’s no going back, when you finally pull the curtain open.

Willow Creek is not a groundbreaking film for the found-footage genre, and you need a lot of patience to sit through this one. Also, the problems in Jim and Kelly’s relationship (long story short, Jim proposes to Kelly. She rejects him, but they agree to move in together) are overshadowed by Bigfoot, but Goldthwait delivers the goods with a tense finale and an eerie cliffhanger, and the tent scene towards the end is genuinely spooky. Although, I’ll warn you now, you’ll have to sit through a lot of “let’s talk about Bigfoot” interviews, but the finale delivers a good amount of edge of your seat thrills, if you have what it takes to endure the documentary side of Willow Creek.

Rating: 6/10

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