Nothing in Bobcat Goldthwait’s history as a filmmaker or an actor indicates that he’d be the guy to make a found-footage horror movie about Bigfoot, but given the distinctive edge he’s brought to his efforts as a writer-director (including Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad), there’s reason to hope he might bring something original to Willow Creek. Sadly, that doesn’t turn out to be the case, and instead Goldthwait delivers a predictably generic found-footage movie, burying any unique elements under the expected bickering, loud noises and shaky camera work.
On the DVD commentary, Goldthwait notes that he originally planned to make a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary about Bigfoot enthusiasts, before deciding to go with a horror movie instead. The comedy might have been a better approach for the material, especially since the more lighthearted first half of Willow Creek is much more successful than the scares that come later. Goldthwait took actors Bryce Johnson (as amateur filmmaker and Bigfoot believer Jim) and Alexie Gilmore (as Jim’s indulgent but skeptical actress girlfriend Kelly) to the actual town of Willow Creek in Northern California, a small tourist hamlet whose main industry seems to be Bigfoot lore. There, in the guise of their characters making a documentary, they interviewed a number of real-life residents and Bigfoot chasers, all of whom are charming in their own ways. Goldthwait doesn’t look down on these oddball characters, instead just stepping aside and letting them have their say.
A real documentary about Willow Creek and its inhabitants would have probably been more entertaining and played better to Goldthwait’s talent for deadpan comedy. Instead the movie leaves the town behind for its second half, as Jim and Kelly venture into the woods to retrace the steps of two famous Bigfoot hunters and see if they can catch their own glimpse of the legendary creature. Although Kelly makes one self-aware joke about losing cell reception just like in a horror movie, for the most part Goldthwait delivers a completely straightforward Blair Witch Project pastiche, as Jim and Kelly encounter mysterious disturbances and unexplained noises, get lost in the woods and ultimately face a terror that remains mostly off-camera.
The movie’s centerpiece is a single shot that lasts nearly 20 minutes, as Jim and Kelly cower together in their tent while an unseen predator closes in on them. It’s admirable for the way it sticks to found-footage realism (no unmotivated cuts or changes of camera angle), but it’s also completely banal. Goldthwait’s approach to the found-footage genre is to keep it as basic and uncomplicated as possible, which means there aren’t any distractingly improbable shots, but there aren’t any particularly memorable ones, either.
After building up a stockpile of Bigfoot legends, Goldthwait leaves his characters’ final fate frustratingly vague, not tied to any specific Bigfoot behavior or tradition. They might as well have been attacked by demons or ghosts or witches, for all the difference it makes. In his comedies, Goldthwait always presents a very particular point of view, but in his foray into horror, he comes off as just another copycat.
The Blu-ray includes a deleted scene, making of featurette, and a commentary track from the principals.