Well-honed horror from former stand-up Bobcat Goldthwait
They say there are no second acts in American lives – then there's Bobcat Goldthwait. A stand-up comic most famous for playing helium-voiced punk Zed in Police Academy 2 (1985), Goldthwait has since been busy making sly, often filthy, indie films such as World's Greatest Dad (2009) and God Bless America (2011). And for his next trick? A found-footage horror about Bigfoot, of course.
Willow Creek is also a film of two acts, the first sunny and (seemingly) loose, the second precision-tooled for maximum creepiness. Holidaying couple Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) are on a sasquatch hunt around Bluff Creek, California (where the famous 1967 Bigfoot footage was shot), capturing their findings on camera.
To begin with their trip follows the format established by The Blair Witch Project (1999). Encountering eccentric locals (often non-actors) aplenty, they – and we – mock their small-town superstitions, while ignoring repeated warnings not to venture into the woods. 'It's not a joke,' says an angry local. 'You shouldn't go there.' But go they do and, well, you know the rest.
Except you don't. Unlike most found-footage characters, Kelly and Jim are a charming, convincing couple. They've also brought a tripod, so their film is surprisingly easy on the eye. Goldthwait has some tricks up his sleeve, too, not least an astonishing 19-minute static shot of the couple in their tent, becoming increasingly terrified, as something stomps around outside.
It's at this point you realise that nothing here is accidental. Though it feels improvised, this is a well-honed work, with details laughed off in the daylight becoming spookily significant once darkness falls. Funny, scary and over in less than 80 minutes, Willow Creek is so much better than it needs to be; it might be the start of a second act for the genre itself.
Limited release from Fri 2 May.