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Willow Creek (Blu-ray Review)

Willow-CreekRemember the crazy voiced comedian and actor Bobcat Goldthwait?   You know, Zed from the Police Academy movies?  Well, he’s gone and transformed himself into a director in the last half decade or so.  He earned some accolades for his previous film God Bless America back in 2011.  Now, he’s been getting some more attention for his latest film, Willow Creek.  Bobcat decided to take on the horror genre for his follow up to God Bless America.  And not just that, he got on the found footage bandwagon.  The subject matter of this such film is the legendary monster, Bigfoot.

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Film 

For his birthday, Jim and his girlfriend Kelly document their travels to Humboldt County, California to track down the infamous Bigfoot which he has been fascinated with since he was 8 years old.  Jim takes to the town and interviews residents about the legendary creature that stalks their woods.  After getting a serious warning from a townie upon trying to enter the forest to camp, they ignore him and decide to go another way.  That night, Jim and Kelly will feel the terror and craziness that has plagued Humboldt County for years.

I was shocked to discover that this movie is almost a straight up remake of The Blair Witch Project.  Seriously.  It has the same structured story, same sort of details, but deals with Bigfoot instead of the Blair Witch.  Everything is here, they just have one less main character and they move through things a little faster and less interested than that movie did.  You have the documentary interviews, visiting the town and such, being terrorized in the tent, getting lost in the woods, the creepy unexplained ending.  There have been a lot of a lot of found footage movies since Blair Witch, but I’ve never seen one come quite so close as to actually remaking it as I have with Willow Creek.

This movie does produce some eeriness, jumps and scares but I think it’d be best and most effective for your to watch all by your lonesome.  I don’t think this type of thing works when you’re in the company of friends.  You sort of need no distraction and nothing but focus to draw in your fear and make it effective.  When its just yourself and the characters on screen, you’re more likely to share a wavelength of being scared with them instead of sharing jabs or disconnect with a watching partner.  When you have nothing to focus on but the movie, its tactics in producing scares work a lot better.

One of the toughest parts of getting through Willow Creek is its opening set up.  It feels like excess.  Nothing in the interviews and character development is really proving to be much of anything.  You’re sort of waiting around to “just get to it” as there is no danger, no real Bigfoot “fun” happening within the film’s first and second acts.  There is some really interesting and haunting information provided, but the film waits to divulge it until these things are actually happening, which makes it feel forced and like “a load of bullshit”.  These creepy details could have been much better serviced had they been weaved in to all the “pre-camping” sequences and built up the dread so when it happens, the audience gets a chance to recognize it as well.

Willow Creek is some decent found footage entertainment.  It seems to be really trying to make itself work rather than cashing in on making a cheap found footage movie.  With a better pace and some of the secrets of the third acts peppered in and foreshadowed a bit more early on, this could have been a much stronger film.  I also could not stop thinking about The Blair Witch Project when watching it, as it felt like exactly the same movie, just with the town and monster swapped out.  Some might have this film working a lot better for them than I did, but as it stands its all right.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  Due to the film using a lower end camera and natural lighting, it doesn’t have the prettiest picture in HD.  The portion of the film that takes place in the tent looks pretty ugly.  Also the parts of the film in the bright sunlight are washed.  One watching a found footage film, however, should understand that this sort of look comes with the territory.

Depth:  Not much really to talk here.  Plus the “natural” camera movements make it hard to really stand back and appreciate some of what’s going on.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and can hide detail, but its done in a purposeful fashion.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are nice and solid.  Blues and yellows stick out

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones produces some solid detail, but are often affected in terms of consistency depending on the lighting.

Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing in terms of the transfer, there are some camera source produced artifacts and noise.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s):  English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 PCM Lossless

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  The sounds is impressive here.  It really goes out of its way to make this feel like you’re amidst what’s happening, especially in the tent scene.  There’s a good range of volume with the knocking and “howling” sounds in the tent to make it seem lifelike.

Low Frequency Extension:  Subwoofer is use to accentuate car doors, camera bumps and rocks being thrown at the tent.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Some good eerie ambiance is added as well as some knocking and coo’ing in the rear speakers.  Left and Right interplay follows camera movement and character/sound placement accurately.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and audible.  Its clarity depends on whether or no the characters are using the microphone, having natural unmic’d dialog, or the camera distorting it because there is furious movement.

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Extras 

Commentary With Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait And Stars Alexie Gilmore And Bryce Johnson – No, he doesn’t sound like he does in the Police Academy movies or his standup.  This commentary discusses how most of the dialogue in the film was improvised basically with guidelines of a starting and ending point.  Bobcat also talks how his original intent was to make a Christopher Guest-like movie revolving around the same town and subject matter.  Upon visiting the town, though, he quickly changed his mind and realized he couldn’t do that to the people.

Cliff Barackman’s Deleted Scene (HD, 4:32)

Bryce Johnson’s “The Making Of Willow Creek” (HD, 11:27) – On set footage of the crew setting up the creek scene from later in the film.

Trailer (HD, 1:45)

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Summary 

For all the buzz I heard surrounding Willow Creek, it came out merely okay.  And it really didn’t pick up until its last half hour.  This Blu-ray release features a great presentation that will have you leaning in and jumping.  It features some useless extras, but the commentary is actually pretty fun.  Coming up this fall, some of you are going to want some fresh horror films to look forward to, and I’d say this one is at least a solid rental, but get something else to go with it.

Willow-Creek-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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