Welcome to Willits (2016)

(aka, Alien Hunter)

Honorable Mention

I’m not sure I would call Welcome to Willits a horror comedy.

Yeah, I know a lot of people are calling it that.  There are funny moments, and there’s a fundamental absurdity to the whole concept of this film (although it takes those absurdities seriously).  But I still wouldn’t call it a comedy.

Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a good film.

Technically, it’s not science fiction, either, although there is one moment which is not explained away with most of the other alien sightings.  But as it involves one of the least reliable witnesses in the entire film, I really don’t think that counts no matter how you look at it.

Poor Brock.  Those darned aliens just won’t let him alone.  He believes they’re after him because he’s developed a new super Meth which opens the brain pathways which allow them into our world.  They’ve kidnapped him and experimented on him over and over again, and he’s had enough.

And it’s obvious that he’s not the only one they’re after in this wild part of California known as the Emerald Triangle (which is home to countless Marijuana growers): there has been a rash of UFO sightings, and a lot of people have gone missing in the region in the past few years.

Mind you, that might just be Bigfoot at work.

Unfortunately, a group of young people (who don’t realize they are in a horror film) have decided to camp out in the woods right next to Brock’s patch.  And, far worse, when they run into Brock late at night, he sees them as…

Okay, you’ve guessed already:

Hideous aliens.

It pretty much goes where you expect it to from there.  The body count grows while Brock’s damaged brain re-interprets things in highly imaginative ways, while his hallucinations turn the hero of the TV cop show he watches all the time, Fists of Justice, into the voice of the aliens secretly communicating with him.  On the fictional show, he’s played by some guy named Dolph Lundgren, who is played in the movie by…Dolph Lundgren, in a wildly violent version of the familiar Dirty Harry style cop who breaks all the rules.

Meanwhile we get a lot of talk about drugs, aliens, opening your mind, and the need for tinfoil hats.  Rory Caulkin, a long way from Signs, plays a stoner drifter named Opossum — the “O” is silent — although he doesn’t get to wear a tinfoil hat this time around.  In one of the film’s most outré moments, as everyone is sitting around camp, he casually picks up a pet Possum wearing a bandana and starts petting it.

The animal hadn’t appeared at any time prior to this moment and never shows up again.

Don’t ask me what it means.  Maybe his pet got mostly edited out of the film, maybe that’s why someone tried to check out his backpack early in the proceedings, maybe it’s a drug hallucination so powerful it merely seems real.  I don’t know.

Welcome to Willits is weird and inventive, with a lot of solid human drama and unanswered questions.  One can’t help but feel sympathetic for Brock, even as his insanity infects his wife and turns him against his own family.  For all we know he may have been the victim of an endless, horrific series of alien visitations.

Or it might be all the weed and emerald crystal he’s smoking.

The film is the work of first-time feature director, Trevor Ryan, and is written by his brother Tim.  It’s an impressive debut, which is colorful and looks great, and features a lot of truly nasty aliens which appear to be practical suit effects and copious quantities of realistic gore. The alien abduction sequences are particularly good and reminiscent of the equally horrific scenes in Fire in the Sky.

The DVD also includes the 2013 short film which inspired this one: Welcome to Willits: After Sundown.  It hits many of the same points as the final film, although it is darker, edgier and more surreal.  It deserves a look, if for no other reason than to learn exactly where that clip of the telephone monster in the feature film came from.

Welcome to Willits is a light-hearted and surprisingly fun effort that gives us enough that we hardly notice just how familiar that plot is and proves that with enough imagination and creativity even the most hackneyed idea can come to extravagant life.

It may not be a great film — or science fiction, for that matter — but it’s definitely worth seeing, particularly if you love horror and science fiction, and particularly if you share it with your friends.

Although you will want to check the woods first, to make sure you aren’t camping too close to Brock’s garden…

(Incidentally, Willits is a real town in California, and you have to wonder what they think about this film…)

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