Another day, another found footage movie. Ever since The Blair Witch Project became The Most Successful Horror Film Ever MadeÔ every horror movie director with no money and fewer ideas seems to have tried their hand at the faux-documentary, sending some unlucky, unknown actors into the woods or a crumbling mental hospital/prison to get lost, get panicky and swear in the dark while being menaced by an unseen monster/ghost/vampire/witch/serial killer.


The latest film from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (God Bless America, World’s Greatest Dad), Willow Creek, is no exception, sending a couple of young city slickers, Kelly and Jim (Aimee Pierson and Bryce Johnson) into the deep dark woods in search of the mythical Bigfoot, a fabled apelike creature that haunts the forests and mountains of the USA’s Pacific Northwest.


Jim is a Bigfoot nut, a true believer who’s intent on finding proof of the Sasquatch’s existence by retracing the steps of monster hunters Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin whose infamous amateur film of a hairy apelike creature (or possibly just a man in an ape costume…) sauntering through the woods caught the public’s imagination back in 1967. With his sceptical actress girlfriend Kelly in tow, Jim sets out to capture the beast on film, interviewing some of the area’s locals before venturing into the woods. But as night falls and their camp comes under attack by an unseen presence, the couple realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.


With the possible exception of computer animated Barbie movies and Zach Braff, there is no trend in current cinema I hate more than the found footage genre so it’s something of a disappointment that Goldthwait, a genuinely fearless and anarchic stand-up comedian and actor (most people still only remember him as the squeaky-voiced nutbag Zed in the Police Academy movies) who’s carved out a second career as one of the USA’s most bitingly satirical filmmakers, has chosen to follow the sly, bitterly acidic God Bless America with this rather ordinary found footage flick which for the first half dissects and celebrates an American legend before settling for the customary things going bump in the night we expect of the genre. But while it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, Goldthwait delivers a tense, atmospheric little chiller that’s shaggy head and shoulders above most of the genre.


For a change our protagonists aren’t the usual hipster twats we actively want to see bad things happen to, Johnson and Pierson make for an effective, believable and, above all, likable couple. We still want to see bad things happen to them (it’s a found footage after all, that’s why we’re here) but at least we feel guilty about it, and the film builds a nice sense of foreboding through their interactions with the local townspeople (believably played by authentic local townspeople) before they venture into the woods and get lost, Goldthwait amping up the scares (or the boredom depending on your viewpoint) with a bravura 18-minute static shot that sees the couple inside their tent becoming increasingly unnerved by the weird, nocturnal sounds of the forest; moans, growls, howls, screams, breathing and wood knocking while a shot where a camera (and, by default, it’s operator) is dragged through the undergrowth is far scarier than any cheaply made monster leaping out at you.


While the ending is a cop out as liable to induce laughter as it is terror, Goldthwait’s touch is light and assured, showing a real gift for horror as he builds tension, the film owing as much to The Legend Of Boggy Creek as it does the Blair Witch, treating the Bigfoot legend with the warm affection of an enthusiast. Smart, funny and scary, if completely predictable, Willow Creek lacks the joyful transgression of Bobcat’s earlier films but delivers a tense, effective little slice of terror.


VERDICT: [rating=3]


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