Imagine you’re stuck at a work party, surrounded by people that you don’t know but you somehow still desperately want to impress. So far, things have been going pretty smoothly. But just as you’re about to hit the floor and crush this Mark Morrison Return of the Mack routine you’ve been working on, someone has the audacity to ask you about a subject you know absolutely nothing about. The panic hits you like an anvil; your frosted tips start to droop and your slap bracelet dampens with terror-sweat. After a few seconds, you do the only thing you know how… You bullshit. You ransack your Surge-soaked brain, looking for any information you’ve ever heard about the subject. You come up with three or for half-facts and you start just, saying words. You are completely out of your depth and the words you’re trying to string together don’t make any sense at all, but you give it a shot anyway. Now, if you translate that last sentence into a film, you get Black Creek.
Written and Directed by James Crow, Black Creek follows a teen named Mike (Chris O’Flyng) and his group of friends as they travel to his family’s cabin to spread his recently-deceased father’s ashes and say goodbye. He is joined by his sister Heather (Brianna Shae), kind-of-girlfriend Jenna (Leah Patrick), best friend Harry (Michael Hill) and resident horny couple Lloyd and Rachel (Robert Lowe and Rachel Vedder). Once they arrive at the cabin set in the dark Wisconsin forest, they are “terrorized by signs that an ancient, Native-American spirit, awakened by a ritual murder, has marked them for death”.
I’m trying to be a more positive person in 2018, so let’s start off with what the film did well. First of all, this is definitely a slasher film. I lost count at some point, but there are at least 15 or 16 on-screen deaths in this movie. Every five minutes sees someone getting shot, stabbed, garroted or tomahawked. That’s awesome to see in a film with such a low budget. They were able to forego some of the more gratuitous gore seen in some other micro-budget horror films and turn that into even more carnage. No one likes to watch a 12-character horror film where only three or four of them meet their end. This lessens the tension and bores the audience. Black Creek does a good job of keeping you on your toes as it keeps the deaths coming throughout it’s entire run time.
That, unfortunately, is the extent of the good things I have to say about Black Creek. Maybe next year, positive vibes.
There are two major issues that plague this film and keep it from being a fun cabin-in-the-woods slasher. The first is the absolutely horrific acting. Now, this normally isn’t that big of an issue with a small budget feature. We don’t expect a film like this to star Daniel Day-Lewis and Laura Linney, but James Crow and the producers of Black Creek are clearly working with a handful of helpful friends. Horn-dog Lloyd and Pierse Stevens’ Sheriff Wanner are incredibly British (like Crow). Mike’s best friend Harry doesn’t even try to hide his accent, so they made sure to mention that his character was adopted from England. Stevens and Lowe struggle throughout the entire film to hide their accents, so both sounded like they were afflicted with impediments instead of just being from Wisconsin.
The two female leads in the film, Brianna Shae and Rachel Vedder, were obviously amateur actors that really struggled to deliver a single line without looking like blonde statues. On a positive note (See! I wasn’t done!), acting newcomer and Wisconsin-native Chris O’Flyng showed glimpses of true talent in his first film role. His performance was good for a first try, but unfortunately the rest of the cast’s performances gave the film a Junior-College project type of feel.
The film is set in Wisconsin, yet the obviously British Sheriff (for some reason listed as ‘Deputy’ in the credits) wears a uniform with a patch of Minnesota on the arm. When investigating one of the deaths found in the woods, they examine a map of Billings, Montana, claiming that it is of the area. This is obvious stuff that is so easy to fix, and yet it went unnoticed by Crow. At one point in the film, a character derides Mike for his supposed Native ancestry. She states that “I heard the freak’s got actual Indian blood in him”, which is something that no Midwestern person, no matter how shitty they are, would say.
The most problematic part of Crow’s writing is that he assumes that one Native American culture is the same as any other Native American culture. There are almost 600 different Tribes and Nations currently recognized by the American government. Each one rich in their own culture, heritage and traditions. At the end of the film, as Mike is about to be scalped by an “Indian” demon, it states that his scalp will raise the most powerful Skin-Walker ever because of his “Indian blood”. A quick Google search will tell you that Skin-Walkers, or Yee Naaldlooshii, are an important part of Navajo culture. The Navajo Nation lies in the extreme American southwest, not the backwoods of Wisconsin. At another point in the film, the Sheriff sees symbols written on the door in blood. He tells his Deputy that it is “The Native American symbol for death“. What? There are over 2,000 different languages and dialects spread across those nearly 600 Nations. If James Crow would have spent the time to treat the story with the respect it deserves, Black Creek would have been something worthy of watching.
I don’t want to sound too harsh with my review of Black Creek. It was obviously made with little-to-no-budget (IMDB states that the film had a budget of $3 Million), and it does more with less than most direct-to-video films. As an aspiring filmmaker and someone who has made no-budget movies with his family and friends, I can appreciate everything that Black Creek was able to put on the screen. As a consumer, however, I don’t care that the film had no budget. If I’m spending $6 to rent this movie, I want to see a good movie. As a citizen of the American Midwest, I would hope that someone making a film with Native American undertones would have treated it with more respect. As it is, James Crow and the people behind Black Creek, though they tried really hard, gave us a bad movie filled with problematic Native American mythology and high-school-drama-class level acting.