Bigfoot meets The Blair Witch Project in Willow Creek, director Bobcat Goldthwait’s first foray into the horror genre. Goldthwait, who is perhaps best known for being an actor and standup comedian, proves that he knows how to create a scene with true tension. One of the scenes on display here is 18 minutes of pure fear, an extended sequence that just gets more and more frightening. Unfortunately, it’s the only time that the movie escapes the dull mediocrity that plagues the rest of the runtime. This is a frustratingly slow found footage feature, one that really tests the patience of its audience and doesn’t reward them with a satisfying enough payoff.

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a big believer in Bigfoot. His girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is not. Despite this, Jim drags Kelly with him to Northern California to film a documentary about finding Bigfoot. They plan to enter the area where Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed their supposed discovery of Bigfoot in 1967. They interview many local residents and people who claim to have had encounters with a Bigfoot-like creature. When Jim and Kelly enter the woods, they receive several warnings from locals telling them to turn back. They choose to ignore them and hike into the forest anyway. But one night they hear whooping, crying and something walking close to their tent. Is it just the locals trying to scare them away, or could it actually be a sasquatch-like creature?

Most of Willow Creek ends up being a dud, but the sequence where Jim and Kelly first hear the cries of the creature is nothing short of terrifying. They’re awoken in their tent in the middle of the night to strange sounds all around them. Eventually the sounds grow closer and they can hear footsteps right outside of their tent. Rocks are thrown at them and some sort of large creature actually pushes right up against the wall of the tent. It’s all done in one long take and each passing second gets more and more suspenseful. It’s a very long scene, but it’s undeniably effective. The sound effects on display here are excellent and they go to show just how unnerving the power of suggestion can be. While their performances are pretty ordinary for the majority of the film, Johnson and Gilmore are great in this sequence. Their calm and collected demeanors slowly unravel until they can no longer hide the true terror that their characters are experiencing. This just might be the single most terrifying scene in any horror movie this year.

But, sadly, the rest of the film doesn’t even come close to matching the greatness of the tent sequence. Over half of the movie feels like it’s spent interviewing locals about the Bigfoot legend and it’s painfully uninteresting to watch. The scenes drag on for so long that they completely screw up the pacing for the film. Because the film’s runtime is a very short 77 minutes, I can’t help but think that these scenes lasted for so long simply because Goldthwait needed to pad the runtime to reach feature length. It’s not until Jim and Kelly enter the woods that anything interesting even happens. Once the scares start to happen, they do deliver effective chills, but then the film ends in the most abrupt, cliché fashion for a found footage film. It’s a very unsatisfying ending that leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

Because 18 minutes of this film are so effective, I have a feeling that this would have worked much better as a short film rather than a feature. If everything surrounding the tent sequence wasn’t so lame, this could have easily been a great horror movie. It’s got a great premise and Goldthwait clearly knows how to milk his scares to get the most out of them. But most of the movie feels repetitive and tedious, while also copying ideas from the far superior The Blair Witch Project. Willow Creek is worth seeing for one scene alone, but everything else that it offers feels uninteresting and uninspired.

Willow Creek receives 1.5/4

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