Wednesday, 1 October 2014

30 Day Horror Challenge - #1: 'Willow Creek'

So, Bren from the 'Under Your Bed' podcast (which is a podcast about horror films, not a podcast recorded under your bed because obviously anyone talking under there would give their location away. No, you need to keep an ear out for soft controlled breathing, and the gentle sound of fabric moving across carpet as whoever-it-is moves into  more comfortable position, to detect someone who is actually under our bed) has started a 30 Day Horror Film Challenge.
Since I was half-planning on doing something like this already I'm taking a final prompt and just going for it to see how far I make it.

Film #1: 'Willow Creek'

'Willow Creek' is a 'found footage' horror film about 2 campers in search of Bigfoot, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
First thing's first, yes, it's written and directed by the guy with the funny voice from the 'Police Academy' films. He also wrote and directed 'World's Greatest Dad' and 'God Bless America', a wonderful film which cemented the fact that I will watch everything this guy ever makes.
Another thing which lead to my choice of 'Willow Creek' were marathon viewings of 'Finding Bigfoot'. For those of you who don't know, 'Finding Bigfoot' is an Animal Planet "documentary" series in which a group of people travel America in search of the elusive Bigfoot, and I love and hate this show. Each episode features a group of people arriving in a small town, pre-convinced that people there have seen Bigfoot, interview locals in order to find the most plausible sighting, then perform limited 'tests' in that area, before leaving convinced that they were close to finding Bigfoot there, but not close enough to warrant staying there longer than a few days before giving up and leaving.
A typical episode goes like this:

Each episode contains even more delusional thoughts than: "See, even if we don't hear 'em answering you know whatever we're doin' is gonna stir 'em up..."
And every episode basically ends with one of the team saying 'the fact that we didn't see them proves that they're there and more intelligent than we thought' before hopping in their car never to return.
Proof of Bigfoot/ Sasquatch/ squatch communicating include but are not limited to knocking sounds, bits of wood being hit together, and - I sh*t you not - "samurai chatter", so called because it supposedly sounds like cartoon Japanese people talking. While evidence that Bigfoot was at a location is so ridiculously varied as to be considered an improvisation exercise like on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" when they would throw props at the comedians and score them on what they could make up.
Does a tree have scratching marks on it? Bigfoot did it!
Does a tree not have scratching marks on it? Bigfoot is a gentle giant!
This small tree fell over? Bigfoot was here!
This large tree fell over? Bigfoot was here, heard it fall and fled the area.

'Willow Creek' makes use of all of this supposed Bigfoot behaviour to craft a film scarier than watching a group of people run through a woods for 40 minutes every week convincing themselves that every sound they do/ don't hear is proof positive of Bigfoot.
In fact 'Finding Bigfoot' investigator Cliff Barackman originally filmed a scene for 'Willow Creek' which can be found on the DVD so I would be surprised if he didn't give Bobcat a few notes on what to look out for in order to make the film 'authentic'.

Does the film work?
Yes and no. Depending on how accepting you are of found footage films this effect can taint the film for you straight off. The leads, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson) are very likable so make the film easier to watch. As the couple move deeper through the Bigfoot adjacent community the welcoming faces of the community are tempered by the aggressively unwelcoming faces, none of which is enough to put off the enthusiastic Jim from making his own Bigfoot documentary.
Along the way there are tales of Bigfoot encounters, Bigfoot-themed roadside restaurants, stories of missing people, just enough to keep Jim on point as Kelly (the skeptic of the two) grows increasingly weary of it all.
The film is only 76 minutes long, with some of those minutes feeling much longer than others. Some of which is entirely on purpose; towards the end of the film there is a 15-20 minutes sequence in a tent, as the fixed camera records Jim & Kelly's reactions to the late-night sounds outside of their tent. This long sequence, played incredibly well by the actors, without any cuts, builds genuine tension that found footage films generally can't handle, with the sounds and silences outside the tent used to great effect.
I would say the film is worth it for this scene alone.
Not that the rest of the film isn't worth it, but the build up feels like a lot of stuff I've seen in many horror films before (but with a Bigfoot skin on it) so it's hard to get excited.
Still, I'm glad I watched it.

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