As a director, Bobcat Goldthwait dabbles in horror for the first time to deliver a surprisingly delicate found-footage Bigfoot movie that sheds light on a bizarre subculture without judgment. In ‘Willow Creek’, he delivers genuine unease without any conventional horror movie theatrics. It’s not the movie you’d expect from the director or the subject matter, and it’s all the better for that.
Over the last decade, Bobcat Goldthwait has rather quietly transformed himself from being the ‘Police Academy’ loudmouth into one of the most underrated directors in America. His M.O. before now has been to take outrageous satirical premises and twist them into surprisingly moving and subtle comedies. Thus far, he made a gentle romantic comedy featuring beastiality (‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’), a Robin Williams movie about a wannabe writer who profits from his son’s suicide (‘World’s Greatest Dad‘), and a lovers-on-the-run serial killer flick about a middle-aged man and a teenage girl who murder trash culture celebrities for the good of their country (‘God Bless America‘). They’re all very strange, distinct and well-made black comedies that have not just revitalized Goldthwait’s career, but showcased a depth to his comedic mind that no one ever could have predicted.
Goldthwait’s latest effort, ‘Willow Creek’, is a stylistic departure from what he’s made before in many ways, and a movie that clearly feels like it was self-financed and produced more for pleasure than profit. It’s also probably the least of the movies he’s directed so far. Yet it’s further proof that people noticed that Bobcat Goldthwait has turned into a genuine filmmaker.
The film stars Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson as a cute couple who travel out to the woods where the infamous Paterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage was shot in the 1970s. They make their own private documentary about the Bigfoot culture there, interviewing a vast swatch of local eccentrics about the famous footage and community. (Interestingly, Goldthwait actually shot all of this material with real locals who thought they were taking part in an actual documentary, and he never snidely mocks them even when the footage turned out funny.)
Eventually, the couple find themselves spending a night in the woods, where creepy stuff inevitably goes down. Goldthwait shows admirable restraint once his oddball indie turns into a horror flick. It’s one of the few found-footage movies produced in the wake of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ that uses the genre as a means for suggested horror and atmosphere rather than a cheap vehicle for scares and gore. The central set-piece (if you even want to call it that) is a 20-minute long single take with the two characters alone in a tent. The camera never moves. It starts as an awkward conversation and turns into the long-awaited confrontation with the supernatural that uses only sounds, acting and undeniable atmosphere to get its creeps. When Goldthwait finally shows his audience a threat, it’s far from what you’d expect and deeply satisfying for it.
‘Willow Creek’ works due to Goldthwait’s typical disregard for convention. Not many directors would make a movie that’s mostly about a relationship with a Bigfoot backdrop, but that’s what he does here. As a viewer, you’ll find yourself oddly more interested about who his protagonists are rather than how they’re going to get totally spookified. The improvised performances from Gilmore and Johnson are charming, sharp and well-observed. The script and direction from Goldthwait are unconventional enough to feel fresh and unpredictable.
This is ultimately a very small movie with modest ambitions that looks and feels like it was made purely for fun between friends. Some might be put off by that, given that it’s part of a genre defined by spectacle. Yet anyone willing to follow Goldthwait down his strange little path will be surprised at how unexpectedly moving, compelling and personal it feels. The movie is not his best outing as a director, but it demonstrates that Goldthwait is a real filmmaker with a distinct voice and not just a comedian seeking a side career. The guy has the goods. Hopefully, his latest little horror lark will find enough success to get the funding for the abortion clinic fetus zombie movie that he’s been trying to make. (It’s called ‘Ankle Biters’, and it’s very real.) That outrageous premise could be just the thing to finally get Goldthwait the attention he deserves.