TADFF 2013 Days 7 and 8 Reviews: ‘Willow Creek’, ‘Cheap Thrills’, and ‘Big Bad Wolves’

Willow Creek

Willow Creek

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

USA, 2013

While trying to document and find evidence of the mythical Bigfoot, believer Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his skeptical girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) arrive at Willow Creek, near where the famous Patterson-Gimlin film was originally shot. Despite the many warnings from locals to stay away, the couple venture into the woods to find Bigfoot, which doesn’t go too well, to say the least.

Although a good chunk of the film early on is dedicated more to setting up the history and mythos behind Bigfoot than actual exposition (which, given its found-footage/faux-documentary style, is understandable if tedious), the film manages to preserve a human element thanks to the tangible chemistry and humour shared between the two leads.

While comparisons to The Blair Witch Project is inevitable, Willow Creek manages to stand out with its expert use of sound and pregnant moments of silence to build tension, and long-takes that feel all-too-natural and believable (an almost 19-minute take inside a tent is unquestionably the highlight).

Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills

Written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga

Directed by E.L. Katz

USA, 2013

After a tough day, in which he gets fired from his job and receives an eviction notice, Craig (Pat Healy) goes to drown away his sorrows at a bar. There, he encounters his old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), who, in turn, strikes up an encounter with a rich couple (Sara Paxton and David Koechner). The couple offers the two cash to perform innocuous dares (i.e. drinking a shot of tequila), but as the night wears on, the dares, and Craig’s and Vince’s convictions to do them (Craig has a wife and an infant), get increasingly morbid and risky.

At the heart of it, Cheap Thrills is about how the rich are spoiled for choice while the not-so-rich live without options. This concept of the lower class doing things for money to entertain the upper class isn’t new (see Rat Race or The Hunger Games), but the film manages to stay fresh with a sort of Hangover-type approach, blending dark humour with raunchy violence and increasingly audacious stunts. It’s a perverse and cracking affair, but Cheap Thrills still manages to have its lower-key elements that flesh out the two friends’ relationship.

Big Bad Wolves

Big Bad Wolves

Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

Israel, 2013

Following the disappearance, rape, and murder of a young girl, the story behind Big Bad Wolves brings together the interwoven stories of three men: the father of the girl (Tzahi Grad), the suspected perpetrator (Rotem Keinan), and the rogue cop trying to bring the perpetrator down (Lior Ashkenazi). When standard judicial procedure fails to find evidence, the father and officer go to extreme lengths for vigilante justice.

Despite impressive technical qualities (such as stunning photography and a booming orchestral score), Big Bad Wolves becomes untenable extremely early on because of its weak focus on the rime at hand. It’s no spoiler (or maybe it is) to say that the film contains scenes of torture, in which the suspect is the recipient, and the main rationale behind this is to bring “justice.”

However, throughout the film, it’s never made clear that the suspect is indeed guilty. It’s one thing to watch a film about a person getting their just desserts (see most rape-revenge movies), but Big Bad Wolves forces its audience to watch a person who may or may not be guilty being graphically tortured, and we’re expected to cheer their pain and suffering (or, at the very least, root for the people doing the torture). This reeks of Guantanamo, and the film’s use of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable to make us overlook this fact (an immediate and overwhelming hatred for child rapists is natural, after all) is flat-out wrong and exploitative.

Perhaps the film is trying to say, with the absence of habeas corpus, extreme vigilantism will lead a person to become the same criminal as the criminal (see Guantanamo or America’s War on Terror), in which case Big Bad Wolves would be a compelling and amoral examination on what it means to have justice. But the ending (big spoiler: he did do it) seems to justify all the actions in the film and betrays this notion.

Furthermore, the film’s use of humour interjected between torture scenes is tactless at best, and yet again serves lessen the severity of subject matter. With its exploitation of serious issues for the sake of bloody and faux-righteous thrills, it’s no wonder Quentin Tarantino, whose last film Django Unchained suffers form similar problems, has called  Big Bad Wolves his favourite film of the year.

— Justin Li

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