Review: ‘Willow Creek’ 9.16.14

Like Kevin Smith’s recent foray into an entirely new genre, 2011’s razor sharp “Red State” (which made my top 10 list from that year), I was really enthusiastic to see what writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait could do outside of comedy. Particularly with something that I had heard while it was in development that was going to fall into the horror vein. If Smith was the reigning comedic director of the 1990’s, Goldthwait has more less taken on that role, at least for me, throughout the aughts. Citing both 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad” and 2011’s “God Bless America” as two of my favorite comedies from those respective years, I’ve grown a deep affinity for Goldthwait because as is like with some other directors who I admire, I feel like he gets me. There’s something about his comedic sensibilities that I connect with. In fact, in regards to “God Bless America”, so much so to the point that every word that’s uttered from that script I felt like was an exact representation of how I either felt or viewed the world (an optimist I know). 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was also unique and funny enough, but I can’t say it’s one of my favorites of Goldthwait’s. Nor is 1991’s “Shakes The Clown”. But even still, within those films I saw a comedic director with something to say. Even if sometimes, as is with “World’s Greatest Dad” or “God Bless America”, he goes a bit overboard in trying to get his point across.

I was both happy and pleasantly surprised at the very first scene to find that Alexie Gilmore (Robin Williams’ flame from “World’s Greatest Dad”) and Bryce Johnson (Joel Murray’s co-worker from “God Bless America” and the fiance from “Sleeping Dogs Lie”) were the leads. Those are actors that really stuck out from those films so I was glad to see that two Goldthwait regulars were cast as the central characters. We first find them driving down “the Bigfoot byway” on their way to Willow Creek, a town where supposedly a Bigfoot was spotted and wrecked havoc on a family decades earlier. In true “Blair Witch Project” style, the two of them are entertained by interviewing all of the many colorful and eccentric characters that inhabit this backwoods town. Soon enough though, they start to encounter some locals who aren’t as welcoming, who insist they go back from wherever it was they came from. But in typical horror fashion they proceed on. Eventually they do make it out to the exact same trail and site where the Bigfoot was spotted some years back. And that’s about as much as I can tell you without giving any other crucial details away.

At first, I thought it was going to be some clever spin on the “Blair Witch Project”. As there were some geniunely funny moments involving the two central leads and the townspeople. The two seeming to make a big joke out of the whole affair and peoples’ seriousness about the Bigfoot legend. In typical Goldthwait fashion, he also uses various opportunties to throw in things he personally hates about popular culture into the script. The couple’s riffs on things like living in Los Angeles and Starbucks come straight from the Goldthwaith cannon. Have I sold you on it yet? I haven’t? Good because that’s about the only good things I can say about this wasted effort. Goldthwait tries so hard to put his own stamp on a genre, the POV or found footage one, that he winds up shooting himself in the foot and makes just another tireless and forgettable retread in the ever exapanding number of films within it. He goes from a full out comedic approach at the beginning to an all of a sudden serious one in its last act. To say this shift in approach didn’t work for me would be the understatement of the year. He employs cheap scares and techniques once the couple do get to the campsite that I found myself rolling my eyes at and trying hard not to laugh, because I knew deep down that there was nothing he was doing that was trying to be funny. Unless maybe he had purposefully set out to make a bad movie. Then maybe this wasted effort would stand for something. For those of you that aren’t going to see this film I will let you in on a little secret – ready, wait for it…shuhhhhh…there is nothing scary or even remotely original about this film. He does set the two leads up nicely (a device that’s mildly effective) in an extended medium/profile shot for the entire climax and lets the camera roll. Maybe one of the only semi-smart choices from a film making stand point. But then he subjects the audience to dumb horror tropes with things like the couple hearing weird howling, rocks being thrown at their tent, slabs of wood being knocked together, etc. Again I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or be afraid. Then finally, when the climax comes to its final build, it falls into copycat territory of an ending I’ve seen one too many times over. A major disappointment and one that I don’t think I can recommend to anyone. Even the most hardcore of genre fans. Bobcat stick with what you know best and go back to dark comedy, because you just made one hell of a boring horror movie.

Grade: D+/C-

 

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Review: ‘The Sacrament’ 8.31.14

Poor Ti West. For a Writer/Director who’s career showed such early promise with his groundbreaking theatrical debut (he had only made a couple of really small indies prior) – 2009’s ‘The House of the Devil’, one of my top 10-20 films of the past 5 years. Also one in which I showered its praises. I told everybody you had to see this movie because it drew comparisons to some of the great masters of suspense like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. This was one of those filmmaking “wunderkinds”, similar to someone like M. Night Shyamalan and ‘The Sixth Sense’, who’s career also started off young and with a bang. And like Shyamalan, every subsequent film he’s put out since then has been considerably worse than its predessesor. West’s 2011’s – ‘The Innkeepers’ was more or less just a rehashing of ideas from ‘The House of the Devil’ both in style and in content. However, whereas ‘The House of the Devil’ was a master class in both wracking suspense and creating a sense of foreboding dread. ‘The Inkeepers’ fell kind of flat with me. I thought the premise of a seemingly haunted hotel with 2 leftover clerks during its final days of closing was shmaltzy and just another excuse for West to cook up another one of his trademark “slo-burners” by roaming his camera around the hotel’s empty rooms and corridors, similar to ‘The House of the Devil’, but in an exercise that I found to be much less effective. Even still, the chills did surmount and their was a fair amount of suspense built up throughout. Just not enough and the ending felt slightly anticlimactic.

Here West is essentially recreating the events of the Reverend Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. A religious group who Jones, because of his opposing viewpoints with America’s opressive ways of living, moved his followers down to South America to create their own Utopia, or what they referred to as “Eden”, in the late seventies. West basically takes this story and spins his own take on it. Presenting it as a fictionalized story when it actuality it couldn’t be more non-fiction. He also shamelessly uses what is becoming overdone specifically with films in this genre, and films it in a POV, hand held, found footage style. Which doesn’t necessarily add anything. If anything it detracts from the story. Why? Because where movies like the ‘Blair Witch Project’ and more recently the ‘VHS’ series actually look like found footage. Nothing here even remotely looks like found footage. In fact, the camera stock comes out looking like there was quite a bit of money put into it. So, sorry Ti but your picture doesn’t resemble anything like that of other films of this type. Furthermore, West also employs his trademark “slo-burning” style once again here. But while it was highly effective in ‘The House of the Devil’ and remotely effective in ‘The Innkeepers’, here it is completely ineffective because we already know how things are going to end (unless of course you are 1% of the population and know nothing about Reverend Jones and Jonestown). That, and when we do finally come to the inevitable ending, West uses shock tactics to show us up close and personal how these people came to their end. Again, nothing effective about this at all whatsoever. For me, when I saw the documentary ‘Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple’ (2006) all I needed to see was the helicopter POV shot of the hundreds of people lying in the field after their demise to really understand how undeniably devastasting this tragic event was. Thank you West, but I don’t need to see people foaming at the mouth or lighting themselves on fire to nail the point home. This was done solely to elicit gasps from the audience which was pointless and unecessary. Why this film was ever even made is beyond me. It’s about as useless as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s beloved ‘Psycho’. Done purely for selfish reasons without even a semblance of having the audience in mind. My best advice for you would be to stay as far from this one as possible.

Grade: D