Blu-ray Review: Willow Creek

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After building an interesting filmography as a director, Bobcat Goldthwait goes the "found footage" route with Willow Creek. It's an unfortunate move as Creek suffers the same pitfalls that have sunk many a film in that tired subgenre. As we follow the exploits of a couple making a documentary about Bigfoot, we endure the usual, obligatory time-marking before the amateur filmmakers find themselves in mortal peril. They’re in the Mount Shasta area of Northern California, trying to access the site of the famed Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot” film in hopes of capturing some groundbreaking footage of their own.

The boyfriend/girlfriend couple meets a variety of folks in the backwoods tourist town. There's no particular motivation for their film project, just an endeavor embarked upon for the fun of it. They meet a local bookstore clerk, the tourist center guide, a townie whose dog was killed under mysterious circumstances, and an ornery property owner. All these folks offer good reason for the young couple to turn tail and run, but of course they soldier onward with their plan. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is aptly named as he often brings to mind a wan copy of Jim from The Office. Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is a wannabe actress longing to move to L.A. for career reasons, despite Jim’s misgivings.

Like a lot of “found footage” horror movies, these two don’t have anything particularly interesting to say. The actors try to keep things real by acting “natural,” all while quite obviously playing to the camera. Goldthwait makes the mistake of having the Jim on camera more often than Kelly. In fact, the only nudity in the film comes when Jim briefly skinny dips. Kelly asks if she should join him, and for some weird reason he says no. The extending nighttime camping sequences at least manage to ratchet up the tension but ultimately the quest for Sasquatch doesn’t add up to much.

The “found footage” sub-genre isn’t exactly tailored for pristine, high definition presentation. Willow Creek is presented as an amateur/home movie production and it looks deliberately shabby. Visually, there’s little reason to comment on the 1080p transfer as the source footage varies so wildly from scene to scene (all by design). The audio is offered as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix and it’s also very good at feeling like a legitimate homemade production. The climax sequence of the film has some nice directional activity that helps elevate the atmosphere marginally above that of an amateur film.

The main supplement is a chatty, good-natured commentary by Goldthwait and his two lead actors. Those who can’t stand the film itself might naturally be less inclined to listen, but those who do will find a good amount of production information. There’s also a deleted scene and a “making of” featurette.

Fifteen years after The Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek demonstrates the continued limitations of the “found footage” approach to storytelling. It’s hard to imagine even those who find it enjoyable will also deem it worth re-watching.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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