BY MICHELLE MEDFORD
Last October, the filles took to the Toronto After Dark, the film fest that features indie, international and yet-to-be-discovered cult classic horror films. It’s tough to navigate films like these, but if you’re a fan of the genre, they’re worth taking the risk on. Although you’ll inevitably come across films that can hardly bear to sit through (mind you, the person beside you may be cheering–it happened to me at the fest), you’ll also discover films that you love so much you’ll want to share it with the world (or at least other horror fans). My case in point, Willow Creek.
The film follows Jim, a Bigfoot enthusiast, on his quest to Willow Creek seeking out the big mythological beast himself. His skeptical girlfriend, Kelly, tags along, because we do silly (and sweet) things for ones we love. Back and forth the whole time about whether Bigfoot is or isn’t real, the couple also interviews locals and visits historic sites about the creature, delving further and further into Bigfoot’s rumoured territory.
So let’s get this part out of the way: This is a found footage film. So, yes, you are going to compare this to The Blair Witch Project and the slew of other found footage films that will follow. But what’s so great about this film is the fact that this film actually works because it is found footage. Tons of films rely on the format for budgetary reasons, whether or not the film itself would actually benefit from the found footage effect. Although budgetary reasons were likely also a huge factor with this film, it’s also what makes the film so relatable and believable. Are you actually going to tote along a camera while a ginormous alien-monster is chasing you through the streets? Maybe, maybe not. Are you going to bring a camera with you camping in the woods? Probably. Are you going to bring a camera when you’re trying to catch a Bigfoot sighting? Definitely.
The handheld camera also works as a great way to catch candid moments of the leads, helping to round out their characters and develop a realistic (and likable) couple (actually, I can’t even count the number of times I saw my own relationship in this movie). Jim and Kelly are so genuine. He’s obsessed with a ridiculous legend (says the girl who believes in ghosts) and his sweet girlfriend is along for the ride because it’s important to him.
The locals are also really believable, partly because some of them are actual locals sharing actual stories. Basing the film on existing mythology and beliefs allows the film to take off on our “what if” fears. There’s a moment toward the end of stillness and silence (you’ll know it when you see it) that perfectly epitomizes the fear we feel at “bumps in the night.” Using the existing mythology also makes it harder to discredit–I mean can anyone definitively say that Bigfoot is not real?
But what I most love about this movie is its building ominous tone. It starts off pretty peppy and positive, so much so that you know something is going to go terribly wrong. As the couple treks further into the woods, they start to realize that it’s probably a good idea to stop making Bigfoot jokes and start taking the legend seriously. It’s this descent of humour into horror that makes you feel really uncomfortable and on edge, and maybe even giving some credit to the Bigfoot believers. While I can’t say you’ll be believing in Bigfoot hours after the film, you’ll definitely be along for the trip.