Bigfoot and Bobcat – Willow Creek

Willow Creek (2013) is not at all what you’d expect from Bobcat Goldthwait. A comedian who made his name in the Police Academy movies and earned a reputation for destroying the set of any talk show which booked him, he branched out as a director of dark comedy movies (although there was a 15 year gap between his first and second films). Willow Creek, although it does contain some humour, is not a comedy – it’s a straightforward found footage horror movie about a search for Bigfoot.

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot enthusiast who has decided to celebrate his birthday with his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) by travelling into the wilderness to visit the site of the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, the famous example of grainy shoddily filmed footage which supposedly provides proof of a female sasquatch (who is referred to as “Patty”) in northwest California. Kelly, a sceptic who is humouring Jim because she thinks his newly revealed obsession is cute, has agreed to help him film a documentary of sorts as he speaks to various witnesses and enthusiasts in the area before heading into the wilderness to try to capture Bigfoot on film.

The first half hour or so of the movie does in fact function in part as a documentary. Willow Creek hosts an annual Bigfoot festival and includes a lot of Bigfoot-themed tourist attractions, including a specialist bookshop, multiple statues, themed restaurants and pubs and assorted examples of kitsch. Jim and Kelly visit many of these locations, speaking to the people who actually run them, both believers and sceptics – the one thing they have in common is a recommendation to take appropriate safety measures when journeying into the wilderness due to the presence of bears, mountain lions and paranoid drug dealers growing their crops. They also visit and interview a number of people with stories about Bigfoot, one of whom sings his own terrible folk song built around the obscure biographical details of a Bigfoot hunter. All of this material is authentic, despite the interviews being conducted by two actors playing fictional roles.

Their attempt to take the most direct route to the Bluff Creek location of the famous footage is impeded when they’re warned off by a large aggressive man (presumably protecting a drug crop) who doesn’t like being filmed and tells them to head back to civilisation. Jim decides that he knows another route and takes them down a more obscure set of dirt roads. It takes several hours of hiking after leaving the car for them to find the location and set up camp – although after returning from a trip to the creek, they find their camp site in a mess and have to set up the tent again. And from there, of course, the situation begins to deteriorate.

Goldthwait has committed completely to the format, which works both for and against Willow Creek as a film. Frustrated with found footage films which cheat the format by having clearly been edited together after the fact, he’s taken care to make a film which could believably be the raw unedited recording found in an abandoned camera. He includes multiple takes of attempts at introductions, restarted interviews, panoramic shots with an interrupted conversation running over the top, and snippets of in-car conversations which you might believably find in a couple’s home movies. He also takes the bold move of filming a 19 minute continuous take of the couple in their tent during the night, a sequence which is filled with long silences as one or both of the characters sits staring around and listening for the sounds they thought they’d heard. The sounds recur and things do happen, but the entire sequence is doggedly played out before a fixed camera until it’s finally switched off and turned on again the next day. It unquestionably adds to the reality of the scene, but is also the most extreme example of an approach which will alienate some viewers.

In case there were any doubts about Goldthwait’s commitment to the subject matter, this is not his only Bigfoot-related project. He appears in “Bobo, Bobcat and the Big Red Eye”, a 2014 episode of the TV documentary series Finding Bigfoot (2011-2017) which ran for an astonishing 100 episodes. His short film American Bigfoot (2017) documents his visit to the annual Ohio Bigfoot Conference accompanied by the stars of Willow Creek – and at least one of the attendees interviewed also appeared in the film. They get to speak to people from both sides of the field, the more grounded cryptozoologists as well as those who come at it from a more supernatural angle. And then there’s the racist who gave a slide presentation comparing black women to Bigfoot, roundly derided by the other attendees but jawdroppingly incapable of understanding why people were offended. After completing this documentary (included in full below), he then took a Bigfoot-free step into horror-comedy with the anthology TV series Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters (2018) before providing the voice of a Sasquatch Monk for Cartoon Network’s Summer Camp Island (2019).

I’d hesitate to recommend Willow Creek to anybody who isn’t heavily into either Bigfoot or the found footage format. Goldthwait’s commitment to authenticity means that Willow Creek doesn’t have a conventional narrative flow, and some horror fans will be put off by the lack of any visual reveal. There is a visceral payoff which allows the viewer to come to their own conclusion about events, but it won’t be sufficient for those put off by the 19 minute single take. For myself, I thought it was an interesting formal exercise which I’m happy to have seen, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

2 thoughts on “Bigfoot and Bobcat – Willow Creek

  1. Still sad there wasn’t more of Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters. It as bizarre as expected, but its moments of brilliance came more frequently than I’d anticipated they would.

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