‘Willow Creek’ closes Oak Cliff Film Festival

Posted 12:32am on Monday, Jun. 10, 2013

Two concepts that don’t normally go together: “Horror thriller” and “Bobcat Goldthwait.”

But that changed Sunday night at the Texas Theater for those who gave up their weekly dose of Game of Thrones or Mad Men to see Willow Creek, the latest film from stand-up comedian turned filmmaker Goldthwait, at the final night of the second annual Oak Cliff Film Festival. Eschewing the social satire for which he’s known, Bobcat turns in a surprisingly effective riff on both the found-footage trope ( The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, etc.) and that whole people-stuck-in-a-confined-space thing ( Buried, Frozen, Open Water, etc.) that doesn’t turn into snark. Though there are some humorous moments near the start, Goldthwait plays it completely straight and that may be a turn off to some of his fans.

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot enthusiast who persuades his girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), to help him with a documentary he’s making about the legendary creature who supposedly haunts the forests of the Pacific Northwest. After chatting with and filming locals in a small Northern California town where some claim to have seen evidence of Bigfoot’s existence and others doubt it, they hike deep into the forests trying to get to the spot where the infamous 1967 Roger Patterson footage of something resembling some sort of man-ape hybrid was filmed.

Shot entirely from the point of view of Jim’s camera, and with relatively few cuts, Goldthwait slowly ratchets up the tension until he drops his filmic bomb: a nerve-janglingly tense, 19-minute single take with Jim and Kelly in a tent at night while something out there is getting closer and closer.

Willow Creek is derivative of lots of other films, even in its name. Even though Willow Creek is a real California town with a Bigfoot connection, the name brings to mind the Australian horror thriller Wolf Creek, about some backpackers stranded in the wild with someone after them. Then there's the 1972 film The Legend of Boggy Creek about a strange man-creature living in a swamp. And the entire concept of “found footage” is yawn-inducing these days. But when you’re in that tent with a terrified Jim and Kelly, it works anyway.

Willow Creek doesn’t have distribution yet. But, as this low-budget affair may be his least controversial work (his last film, God Bless America, focused on a man and a girl on a killing spree across the U.S. and that one got picked up), it should show up sooner or later.

Goldthwait was there for a short Q&A after, saying that -- unlike what many may assume -- it was never his intention to make fun of the subculture that has grown up around looking for Bigfoot (several actual residents of Willow Creek appear early in the film) and that he's too old now (he's 51) for snark. He also said he wanted to make something different from what he's done before and that he wanted to try his hand at the found-footage concept. He also confirmed that he's still working with Kinks lead singer Ray Davies to get a film version of the Kinks' 1975 "rock opera," Schoolboys in Disgrace, off the ground.

Then the fest ended with a party in the lobby with a DJ spinning lots of mainstream '70s/'80s hits: Steve Miller's Abracadabra to Chic's I Want Your Love. For some of us with long memories, that was a whole different level of scary.

But it was a cool way to end an upstart film festival that doesn't take itself too seriously but, thanks to wildly eclectic but intelligent programming, deserves to be taken seriously. Can't wait for OCFF 3.0.

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