As a longtime stalwart defender of The Blair Witch Project I come at Bobcat Goldthwait's new found-footage Bigfoot movie called Willow Creek of two minds. On the one hand it's nice to see somebody acknowledge and pay homage what worked so well in that 1999 film - sometimes it really is simple enough to just plunk your characters down in the profound darkness of the wilderness night and shuffle the audience in right there beside them and make us listen, listen, and listen to that emptiness, straining for something, and straining, and straining... cuz then when that something's realized good lord shiver me timbers I'm gonna scream my fool head off every time.
If you've previously read anybody's opinion, tweet-length or longer, on this movie then you've heard them make mention of "the long shot" - there's a shot in Willow Creek that is endless, probably a good ten minutes long, and if I was gonna guess I'd say it's the reason Goldthwait made this movie in the first place. It's an astonishing self-contained horror show of that straining. It stuffs your nerves through a wood-chipper - it frays them to little shreds. It lasts so long that it loses you a couple of times, only to win you back a split second later - it's an effortless roller-coaster thing, a thousand times scarier than any deluge of CG ghosts we've seen over all the years. One little sigh, one little pat on fabric, and then you (meaning me) find yourself (meaning me) literally throwing your phone across the room with an explosive yelp. The tension is astonishing.
And it helps that Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson give us a super likeable duo, with specific personalities and a lived-in charm; they have tons of chemistry together. We really don't want to see anything bad happen to these kids.
But on the other hand, Willow Creek sometimes feels a little bit more than homage - the structure is a carbon copy of Blair Witch, from the early interviews with local yokels to the banging outside the tent to the getting lost to the one character poking at something they find that the camera never gets a good shot of, and right down to the jolt of the inexplicable at the ending that fuels our panic with what-the-fuckery - a "What the hell did I just see?" moment that's meant to send us off the deep end. From where I stand Blair Witch nailed it (Josh standing in the corner is a shot that still, fifteen years on, makes my genitals crawl up inside of my body) while Willow Creek's doesn't feel of a piece unto itself enough. You can make sense (horrible horrible sense) of Josh in that corner - the film sets up the pieces for us to knock them down, and with it a portion of our own sanity waves bye bye. I appreciate Willow Creek's ultimate admiration of the mysterious - that it leaves us with more questions than answers, ultimately - but there's also something frustrating and nonsensical (and yes, redundant) about it, too.