June 04, 2013

Bobcat Goldthwait's Bigfoot Movie WILLOW CREEK Does Found FootageRight #IFFB

"I fucked up."
I had such a blast at the Independent Film Festival Boston.  The lineup was absolutely STACKED with great movies and, for timing and financial reasons, there were a number of films I really wanted to see but ended up missing.  My plan for the last night I attended was to watch Touchy Feely, the latest from writer/director Lynn Shelton about a massage therapist who suddenly develops an aversion to physical contact, while her emotionally detached dentist brother simultaneously acquires a sort of healing touch.  It's a fun, quirky premise and I'd been meaning to check out Shelton's largely improvisational style of filmmaking.  I ultimately found the movie fairly disappointing, but in a very muddled sort of way.  It felt like a series of lovely performances in service of an underdeveloped and overly self-serious story.  I was frankly disappointed to end my festival experience on such a low note.

Fortunately, something awesome happened instead.

Right before Touchy Feely started playing to the half-empty main theater, the festival director came on stage to give the standard introduction and thank-yous which, after having heard it five times, I probably could have delivered myself at that point.  But then he told us that the demand for Bobcat Goldthwait's found footage Bigfoot movie Willow Creek had been so great that they had moved the show into the main hall directly following Touchy Feely.  What's more, Bobcat himself would be in attendance to do Q&A after the film.

I couldn't have gotten to the box office any faster if I had a damn jetpack.

Somehow I'd yet to see any of the dark satires that Bobcat had directed in recent years, despite reading rave reviews for all of them.  (Most have been in my Netflix queue for ages, so I really have no good excuse.)  But when someone says "Bobcat Goldthwait's found footage Bigfoot movie," your only real question should be, "Where do I show up?"

And wow, does Willow Creek ever deliver.

I'm not even that big a fan of the found footage genre - I think Chronicle has an interesting style and works primarily because the need to videotape everything serves as a crucial character trait, and while Cloverfield was certainly an incredible theater experience, I haven't seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies and don't really plan to.  Found footage horror generally feels like just another way to make an already inexpensive genre even cheaper and it's rarely used in such a way as to enhance the actual story.  Goldthwait, on the other hand, uses it kind of brilliantly, depicting a couple who travel through Willow Creek, CA in order to make an ultra-cheap, YouTube-style documentary retracing the steps of the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage, best known for producing this image:

But lest you think this is just another Blair Witch Project, with ninety minutes of shaky-cam footage of terrified people running through the woods, let me assure you that nothing can be further from the truth.  Goldthwait smartly spends the first half of the movie in civilization, more pointedly, in the midst of Sasquatch Central.  Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) spend their first few days in the Bigfoot equivalent of Roswell, NM; he's the true believer, interviewing locals and delivering cheesy roadside monologues while his would-be actress girlfriend is ironically stuck behind the camera.  What really puts it over the top is that all the interviews are conducted with real local Bigfoot aficionados, and they are all AWESOME.  One guy even writes original Bigfoot songs!  Goldthwait admitted in the Q&A afterward that the locals are all only half in on the joke: they think that Jim and Kelly's low-rent documentary is the real deal and are unaware they're talking to actors portraying characters.  Fortunately Johnson and Gilmore are true professionals and, while there are plenty of laughs*, it never feels like these real people are being mocked for their beliefs.

The important thing here is that Jim and Kelly are both really sweet characters.  His belief in Bigfoot is grounded in a sort of adolescent joy - it never occurs to him that an actual encounter might be dangerous. And while Kelly is concerned about their future together (she wants to move to LA for her career and he flat out says he can't imagine a worse place to live) she still goes along with his absurd quest because she can see just how important it is to him.  The two eventually start to make their way into the woods, and while Jim's determined to catch a glimpse of the mythical beast, Kelly's patience starts to wear thin, particularly as it becomes clear that they have no idea where they're going.  Their mutual frustration is totally justified, keeping the focus squarely on relatable couple squabbling.

Other than a creepy guy at the entrance to the woods and a mysteriously knocked over tent, it's a pretty slow burn to the real horror stuff. And even then, it's staged with remarkable restraint. The film's standout scene is a single, 19 minute long shot of Jim and Kelly, sitting in their tent, awoken by strange noises in the night. The camera remains as stationary as the two leads strain to figure out if there's really some threat outside the nylon walls or if their brains are playing tricks on them and the audience involuntarily strains to do the same.  It might sound boring or self indulgent but the tension slowly escalates at just the right pace to keep the audience thoroughly engrossed.  Moreover, it feels authentic to the convention of the genre.  This is a movie full of long takes because the shot only cuts when one of the characters turns the camera off.  Goldthwait rightfully pointed out how silly it feels when found footage movies feel like they were heavily cut together by some kind of macabre fictional editor within the world of the story.  It's nice to see someone who properly embraces the "found" element of found footage.

The film's final moments are executed superbly, with the kind of imagery that will have audiences buzzing as they walk out of the theater.  Goldthwait was hilarious during Q&A, although he admitted up front that he was high as shit on dilaudid as the result of a recent back surgery.  (Goldthwait's been sober for years.)  But painkillers notwithstanding, he was clearly thrilled to be premiering the film at IFFB, where he had previously shown both World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America.  He had tons of great stories to tell about the filming process and the various Bigfoot folks they encountered along the way.  He was not only funny, but he was also very upfront about the various twists and turns of his career, which should come as no surprise to fans of his frequent appearances on the Harmontown podcast.

It's still early days for Willow Creek: the film does not yet have a distributor and while the poster above is obviously great there's no proper trailer at this time.  While I'm sure that someone will eventually pick up the movie, I certainly wouldn't count on a particularly wide release.  I expect that most will discover it via VOD and Netflix, which is a shame since it's a film that really benefits from a being seen in a darkened theater with a big crowd.  So if you don't get the chance to see his latest in a theater, invite over some friends, turn off your phone and turn down the lights.

Trust me, it's worth it.

*My favorite line, which was probably staged, is when the two wake up at the local hotel and go back to their car and find the word "LEAF" written in the dirt on their windshield, to which Jim responds, "Look.  'Leaf.'  Let's get the fuck out of here!"  Two minutes later Kelly starts jacking off a large, weird looking Bigfoot statue in the parking lot, and gets interrupted by the old woman who runs the motel.  Goldthwait said, "She's really the manager and she was really nice, but that's probably because she didn't see Alexie jerking off her statue."

Title: Willow Creek
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Independent Film Festival Boston

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