Monday, June 16, 2014

Willow Creek (2014): Correcting The Blair Witch Project

Willow Creek (2014)
dir: Bobcat Goldthwait

SIFF 2014 Film #15

The found footage genre has a lot of inherent problems to it, 2/3 of them are related to "how did this shot even happen" and the other 1/3 are related to "Why did somebody edit this, nevertheless like this?" In reviewing V/H/S, Film Crit Hulk at Badass Digest wrote about these problems with some pretty intelligent reasoning to why these problems exist and what the problems actually are, and where they stem from. Bobcat Goldthwait seems to agree whole heartedly with Film Crit Hulk, and decided to fix all of the problems by attempting to make a closer-to-reality found footage movie. This time, centered around the search for Bigfoot.

Kelly and Jim are a young couple on the hunt for Bigfoot, intent on making a documentary about the Patterson-Gimlin film, a famous film with supposed sightings of Sasquatch. They travel to the town of Willow Creek, CA which is near the location of the filming of the footage and has made a name for themselves by capitalizing on the Bigfoot fame. They have Bigfoot motels and Bigfoot statues, and home of the Bigfoot burger. Willow Creek is a real town created for fans/believers of Bigfoot.

Kelly and Jim spend the first half of Willow Creek creating footage for their documentary by pointing out city signs, interviewing the locals, eating burgers, and listening to the locals state their opinions of the Bigfoot mythology. But, they're warned not to go to the site of the Bigfoot footage, yet they go there anyways. The second half of Willow Creek is a mini-recreation of The Blair Witch Project that runs through the gamut of found footage cliches.

Willow Creek runs a blessedly short 77 minutes, and is created like an actual found footage tape. The edits are all from the camera starting and stopping, with everything filmed in single takes. The sound is all completely diegetic. There is no art to the style of Willow Creek except that the no art style is exactly the purpose of Willow Creek, thus making it an art of its own. It plays like a home video.

But, it's only 77 minutes. Since we spend half of that time exploring the weird world of Willow Creek, CA, that only gives about 40 minutes to build the tension from 0, and ratchet it up to screaming. The too short running time keeps the tension from building as sufficiently as it should. Much of the built tension focuses on a central set piece that's actually far cornier than it should be, which builds into the question of whether this is satire or not.

Bobcat plays Willow Creek for keeps. The first half is all gentle humor and a bit of "I love these strange people living their life in Willow Creek, CA." But, the second half is all played as if it is genuine horror like The Blair Witch Project. If it doesn't entirely work as a horror movie unto itself, Willow Creek kind of works as a critique of The Blair Witch Project, and simultaneously points to how easy and how hard it is to make a sufficiently good horror movie.

I liked the movie as a mental exercise enough, but the borrowed plot points from The Blair Witch Project really kept me from enjoying it as a horror movie, plus the movie was too short to really pull me out of the distanced first half into the fully engaged second half. It's a miss, but it's a narrow miss that I can easily see would be polarizing between the "This was stupid and corny and pointless crowd" and the "this was genuinely scary" crowd.

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