A Bigfoot Afoot: Willow Creek

06/04/2014 4:00 AM |

Willow Creek
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

The centerpiece of this found-footage Blair Witch redux is destined for inclusion in horror movie textbooks: an uncut, fixed-position, no-budget 18-minute shot of two characters in a tent, out in remote wilderness, listening to the peculiar noises of the forest at night, or maybe something worse. We hear knocked-together wood, and we hear hooting somewhere between that of an owl and a loon, those sounds far off and then much closer, the characters moving from amused fear to abject terror, their voices moving from low whispers to so soft they’re practically just mouthing words to each other. In between shrieks.

That couple is played by Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore: he’s a Bigfoot enthusiast shooting a DIY doc in northern California, and she’s his girlfriend, a Sasquatch skeptic there for moral support and to hold the camera. Structurally, the movie borrows Blair Witch‘s template wholesale: the first half of the movie includes interviews with townsfolk about the legend, both believers and skeptics, mixed with the couple’s disagreements, often filmed from the dashboard’s POV. (The two encounter a considerable amount of Sasquatch kitsch, from burger joints to motels, which inspires some legitimately funny banter.) The second half heads into the woods, navigating the trail that Bigfoot-footage pioneers Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin traveled almost 50 years before.

The untamed nature into which they hike is scary enough without a possible Bigfoot afoot—nothing underscore’s humanity’s vulnerability like heading into inescapable territory without weapons. The couple manages to make it through their night of tent terror, that virtuosic scene of sound-designed fear, just to get lost in the woods the next day (again, just like Blair Witch!) and spend another night listening to more nocturnal whooping. That the first night features a failed marriage proposal encourages a reading of the Sasquatch as the predatory manifestation of their clearly doomed-to-fail love, but Bobcat Goldthwait’s unforced direction equally encourages you to sit back and enjoy the surprising tension squeezed out of a few strange sounds.

Opens June 6 at IFC Center