In Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Save America follow-up Willow Creek (2013), Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson play Kelly and Jim, a young couple heading out into the great outdoors to look for the legendary figure of Bigfoot. Kelly is an aspiring actress and wryly sceptical about the expedition, while Jim is a goofy enthusiast pursuing a childhood fascination. On the way, the pair interview creepy Sasquatch experts, ambivalent eye-witnesses and singing hill-billies. They stay at the Bigfoot Motel, eat Bigfoot burgers and visit the museum to gape at the pictures and snigger at the models. Their final destination is on a patch of land near to Willow Creek, where the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage was shot.
For the first forty-five minutes of Willow Creek, very little happens. It’s about as interesting as watching a holiday video shot by a pleasantly attractive couple who refuse to argue. A sense of threat grows with warnings of the “We don’t like strangers round here” variety, and the young couple’s smug indifference to danger seems to be setting them up for a fall. Director Bobcat Goldthwait has made a name for himself – aside from his acting work in the Police Academy films – through raw social satire, most recently seen in God Bless America. Willow Creek represents a total change of direction and genre; a minimalist found footage horror, elevated by the two decent performances from its likable leads. Sadly, it’s derivative, often tedious and occasionally dumb in a way that seems almost parodic.
The lighter first half – as we get to know and like the main characters – recalls the substantial lead-in to the horror of the much more effective outback thriller Wolf Creek (2005). Yet, although there’s also a hint of Deliverance (1972), the main debt is obviously paid to the classic lost-in-the-woods horror The Blair Witch Project (1999). Many of the film’s later effects, including its sound design, seem to be lifted directly from that found footage benchmark. A nineteen-minute long scene of the fraught couple crouching in their tent is at first creepy but soon drifts into the nonsensically boring and one suspects was partly a technical exercise, perhaps inspired by the micro-budget.
The inherent ridiculousness of the object of the couple’s investigation beggars substantial belief. Although Willow Creek at first follows Kelly in its scepticism, casting a jaundiced eye over the tourist tack, increasingly we’re supposed to take the threat more seriously. However, Bigfoot is on a level with Nessie and – though Ted Danson once tried to make a film about that topic too (see 1996’s Loch Ness) – the inherent silliness of the concept begins to rub off. It soon becomes difficult to dismiss the suspicion that Goldthwait had set out to make a comic horror but forgot to insert any laughs.