A couple follow in the large footsteps of Gimli and Patterson and hike their way towards Bluff Creek, the location of the most famous Bigfoot footage ever captured on film in 1967. Writer and Director Bobcat Goldthwait’s “found footage” narrative may not be groundbreakingly original but it is effective in terrorizing it protagonists (and audience). Goldthwait also winks subtly at the true believers with a bestial sense of humor.
The plot is simple: Jim and Kelly travel to the Bigfoot capital of the world at Willow Creek to trace the steps of Roger Patterson and Robert Gimli in hopes of capturing evidence of the enigmatic and mythical creature. Jim is a true believer and Kelly the critical thinker and this causes some friction in their relationship which adds to their credibility as “real” and not “reel” people. Goldthwait smartly sets the parameters of this narratively constrictive point-of-view and doesn’t deviate from these rules. The film is shot with their single camera and depicts only what they decide to film and narrate; the audience is not shown anything outside of this context. Goldthwait also uses natural sound and eschews any score or musical soundtrack. Though the footage is obviously edited for the final presentation we are watching, there are no transitions that we expect in narrative film.
The characters are making their own documentary so a few stops by famous landmarks like the Bluff Creek sign or the Bigfoot statue in Willow Creek are filmed with Jim narrating. They often wisecrack on camera so this leads one to believe (from their perspective) that this was meant to be a personal film and not an assignment or job. And even though they may make jokes or have fun while on camera this is not at the expense of any of the locals they interview. In short, our protagonists don’t come across as assholes but with the foibles and sense of humor of people like us: it’s easy to forget they are actors but I couldn’t help but notice that Kelly was practically skin and bones, almost to the point of being unhealthy. To add to the verite of the spectacle, they interview locals who range from the non-believing skeptic to the local who gets a bit angry when Jim pokes fun at the Bigfoot statue. It gets downright nasty in the final act when they drive down the pothole damaged dirt road towards Bluff Creek and are met by a local who warns them to go home. He doesn’t need to say “or else” for Jim and Kelly to get the message.
We soon get the sense of how far out in the wild they truly are as the huge ancient trees blot out the sun and the thick underbrush is a living mass of thorns and briars blocking their path. They have driven for hours and hike all day until they set up their little tent. We get a nice surprise as Jim turns on the camera and proposes to Kelly and she responds with a very honest answer. Townsfolk have warned them to be prepared because they are in the middle of nowhere and they seem well set. But deep into the night they are awakened by strange knocks. In one ten minute unbroken sequence, with the camera on (and light briefly turned off) we are terrorized along with them. Grunts, howls, knocking, and a women’s crying haunt the dark. It’s unsettling and their responses are realistic. Kelly begins by believing it’s most likely the angry guy at the statue or a group from town, but soon the sounds become inhuman. And they are getting closer. Huddled together, footsteps crunch through the underbrush until someone(thing) shakes the tent and growls as if squatting a few inches away. The sequence is brilliantly acted and becomes practically unbearable if the viewer has fallen into the story thus far. When morning comes Jim still wants to find evidence and Kelly is hiking quickly back to the car. Even in daylight the people or creatures hoot and knock out of sight and throw rocks. In their fear they become lost and the film’s finale seems to happen in seconds. Night comes and they have no protection. Crouched together with a stick for a weapon, the unknown creatures close in. As they run for their lives the camera catches giant footprints in the mud and suddenly a naked woman, crying and dirty, looms from the darkness. The camera drops and we hear the gurgling last breath of Jim as he’s being murdered. Then Kelly’s scream pierce the dark. Jim must have the camera in his death grip because he’s dragged backward quickly and the camera is broken or turns off. Now the audience is left in their own blackness.
Bobcat Goldthwait has a wicked sense of humor. The film works on a superficial level and leaves one scared and perplexed as a good horror film. No needless explanations or epilogue required to detail how the film was discovered or edited together. We get just the story like a punch in the gut. But when we piece together some fragments it begins to make sense. RE: The poster of the missing girl in the Bigfoot diner in Willow Creek; The sexual jokes Kelly makes about Bigfoot’s dick; The joke about them copulating in the tent with the camera on; The fact that Jim is obviously murdered but Kelly left alive (as far as we know); And the fact that in two scenes the growling heard could not have been made by a person. Yes, one can believe it was entirely locals fucking with them but they went through an awful lot of trouble especially being naked in thorny underbrush. Here’s the joke: Bigfoot kills the males but keeps the women for sexual partners!
WILLOW CREEK plays straight by its own rules and is a successful horror film in that it delivers the scares if not the answers. The ending can be defined by the individual viewer which is often the case with cryptozoological evidence. For now, Bigfoot still remains a mystery for us. But Jim and Kelly know the naked truth.
Final Grade: (B)