The huge, unparalled success of 1999's The Blair Witch Project was a blessing and a curse. It changed the way that independent films were made, especially horror movies, but then it spawned so many very pale, ridiculous imitations that basically drained most of the life out of the "found footage" genre of horror movies. Thankfully, Bobcat Goldthwait's 2013's surprise hit, Willow Creek, stands out from the pack and actually gives the genre some well-deserved new life.
The story concerns a filmmaking couple (Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore) making a documentary about the legend of Bigfoot. Jim (Johnson) has a lifelong respect for the entire myth, while Kelly (Gilmore) thinks that the entire story is false and unbelivably ridiculous. The first half of the movie has Jim interviewing residents of Willow Creek, who are not exactly weird, but charmingly normal for people who believe in Bigfoot. Things get really creepy and interesting when Jim and Kelly hike deep into the forest, near the site where both Robert Patterson and Rob Gimlin made their famous sighting of Bigfoot, back in 1967. In typical horror-movie fashion, bizarre things start happening in terrifying ways that neither of them could have ever imagined.
Director Goldthwait's keen eye for tension is justifiably dead on in a bravua almost 20-minute, wordless sequence where the couple are menaced in their tent by ruthless sounds and unexplainable occurrences. This sequence alone is one of the scariest moments in the last 10 or 15 years and is extremely effective.
What makes Willow Creek such a standout little gem is that it doesn't set out to be a groundbreaker; it wears it's "found footage" heart on its sleeve and is aware that it follows Blair Witch in similar detail. It takes its time in drawing out the suspense that it sometimes requires much patience in its rather brief running time of almost 79 minutes, but it works so well that it blows the other Blair Witch rip-offs out of the water. With this film, Blair Witch, and 2007's Paranormal Activity, maybe the "found footage" genre of horror has a future, but that remains to be seen.
The performances of both Johnson and Gilmore are quite convincing and it is even more heartbreaking what they endure, especially in the last half of the film, because they are so genuinely sympatheic and likeable. You feel terrified for them, because they are put in some very strange situations that are just completely beyond their control. That's pretty rare for horror films to do this anymore. I also love the fact that the two leads are not beautifully primped up like people sometimes are in horror movies; they look, act, talk and feel like normal people.
Althought rather slim, the Blu-ray and DVD does have some interesting special features. Before you get to the main menu there are two trailers: the 40th anniversary trailer of Tobe Hooper's legendary classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the dark comedy/sci-fi drama, LFO. For the film itself, there is the original theatrical trailer, Johnson's making of Willow Creek documentary, a deleted scene, and lastly an informative and very amusing commentary by Goldthwait, Johnson, and Gilmore.
So I think it's safe to say that Willow Creek will be probably be regarded a new modern classic, and this review kind of over-simplifies it, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better movie than this, unless they make newer films in this genre, but I highly doubt they'll be good, or unqiue as this.