The Scariest Scene In Willow Creek Is In It For The Long-Take

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition: Matt goes Squatching and Ariel finds terror in the silence.)

I'm not afraid of Sasquatch. This entry isn't some deep-seated fear of a cryptid icon. Sasquatch movies don't usually provoke my curiosity of unknowns, except Bobcat Goldthwait's "Willow Creek" hits differently. Maybe that's because Goldthwait approaches "Willow Creek" as a hardcore "Squatcher" — those who are most serious about finding Bigfoot — with authentic curiosity blended into his found-footage creature feature.

What if the truth is out there, and we don't want to greet it?

Goldthwait represents the act of Squatching both from a tourist's skepticism and obsessive's appreciation. There's plenty of self-admission as characters poke fun at Bigfoot sighting communities, but horror's grasp is firm. It's nothing complicated — just the ominous sound of twigs snapping and leaves crunching in the isolated wilderness. Beady eyes peering through darkened thickets of brush that could be a deer, a bear, or something inhuman.

Y'all can go camping while I stay within the walls of civilization where Jersey Devils and Chupacabras rarely invade.

The Setup

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is your regular Sasquatch believer who's followed all the popular conspiracies. Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is the queen of all girlfriends, who agrees to accompany her man on a Bigfoot hunt. Their destination is Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California, where Jim hopes to record his very own Bigfoot footage.

It's every Bigfoot maniac's dream. Catch the myth, become a legend.

Jim and Kelly are on a specific adventure to discover the famous Patterson-Gimlin film site. Their first stop is Willow Creek, the Bigfoot capital of the world. Jim gets to interview local Bigfoot specialists, much like countless National Geographic specials with a host of — pause for effect — "interesting" characters. Then, the couple spots a missing person poster on the wall.

Hopefully, their adventure doesn't make them another Willow Creek statistic.

The Story So Far

The threat of some unknown forest kidnapper doesn't deter Jim's ambitions to present the world's next viral Bigfoot clip. After getting enough B-roll in Willow Creek of novelty gifts and talking head spots, Jim and Kelly head into the Bluff Creek woods. They encounter every survival thriller's paranoid "don't go in there!" plant, and like many foolhardy horror victims before, Jim and Kelly press onward. Heeding warnings is only for the lamest protagonists.

In the middle of Californian nowhere, Jim and Kelly build their campsite. They leave to swim nearby, soaking in Mother Nature's beauty outside smoggy city blocks. When they return, their camp has been ransacked and their belongings strewn about. Someone (or something) doesn't want them there. At the very least, nearby animal neighbors have grown curious. Neither of these can end well, and that's before night falls.

Cue the adorable raccoon fakeout followed by a painfully too-soon proposal, at least with a happy ending. That's when Jim hears a knocking sound.

The Scene

Jim turns the camera back on, pointed headways at himself and Kelly in their flimsy fabric home away from home. He swears he hears "knocking," which is what Sasquatches do when banging two pieces of wood together. Then the hooting and whooping starts, which Jim predicts is Sasquatch vocalization. Jim is grinning, but Kelly tenses at the thought of someone "f***ing" with them.

The camera does not leave Jim and Kelly's tent for nearly twenty minutes. Jim is hellbent on capturing proof of a Sasquatch, while Kelly worries they've overstepped local boundaries and pissed off hooligans who are sick of out-of-towners stomping around without a care.

Then the sounds become inhuman.

Another howl somewhere between a gargle and a moan cuts through the silence — Jim and Kelly's expressions embrace confusion. What sounds like a woman's wail can also be heard, as the faint crying of a woman in peril gets louder and closer to their tent. They have no protection, nor navigational wherewithal, only their recording device, and the hope some sporting goods store tent can provide enough of a barrier until daybreak.

Jim turns out the light to draw less attention.

Within seconds, footsteps approach. The screen is blank, but we hear the squishing of flaky brush with each step. Jim flips the light back on, and whatever's only inches from the tent scampers in the other direction, but then returns for a jump scare when bashing or throwing something against Jim and Kelly's "wall." Whatever's outside is no longer afraid, stomping and gurgling this low, guttural growl as Kelly cowers in Jim's arms. There's nowhere to flee, nor any safety from the unsettling noises they hear. The antics continue, tearing at our nerves and breaking the deadness of night with signs of a too-close threat.

For twenty uninterrupted minutes, Jim and Kelly are helpless — and we're stuck right there with them.

The Impact (Ariel's Take)

When Matt told me this was his pick for the week, I couldn't remember the scene he was talking about. Now, it's all rushing right back.

I remember seeing "Willow Creek" at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2013. The theater was packed, and this scene hit like a sledgehammer in the dark stillness of the crowd. You could hear a pin drop (or a branch snap). Everyone held their breath. No one so much as sneezed. And the tension was palpable.

The same is still true. For anyone who's ever been camping before — especially interior camping or portaging — everything is louder in the woods. It's like your senses are dialed up to 11, particularly at night, and the mind wanders with wild thoughts of what each and every tiny sound could be. A snapping twig or rustling of leaves can sound like it's right next to your head even when it's 20 feet away. All this is to say that when something comes right up to your tent like a raccoon or a bear (usually because you have food inside with you, which you should absolutely never ever do!), it sounds enormous.

I used to go camping a lot when I was a kid. I started hiking when I was about 4 years old, camping when I was maybe 6 or 7, and portaging when I was about 11. The total silence, stillness, and darkness of the woods always scared me. Still does. There would be times when I'd hear a branch fall out of a tree, or a little raccoon rummaging around nearby, and the faint sound would make me wake up like someone stuck my finger in a light socket. My mind would wander, racing through every possible horrifying thing imaginable, and I would struggle to sleep. Even now as an adult who fully knows better, with literal decades of camping under my belt, it still scares me.

Bobcat Goldthwait captures that very specific fear in the only accurate way — by making you sit in the still silence, alone and afraid.