Found footage is one of the most contentious genre developments in horror in many years. Some hate ‘em, others love ‘em, but personally, I consider them something we’re just going to have to deal with from now on. They allow independent filmmakers the opportunity to realize their dark visions outside of the studio system, since the found footage aesthetic excuses (at some level) their non-existent budgets and production values. At the very least, they let otherwise-roadblocked directors unleash their ideas and techniques on the world. In some instances, the successes are worth the mountains of shit the found-footage phenomena has plopped on us since Paranormal Activity popularized the style.*
Patrick Brice’s Creep leans towards being one of those successes. The film actually makes incredible use of the format, and there are no instances of “why the hell are they filming this” that plague almost every other film in the genre. The reason it works is because of the film’s wonderful conceit: Aaron (played by Brice) is a videographer answering a Craigslist ad out in the boonies. The client, our titular creep, is Mark Duplass’ Josef. Josef is apparently dying of cancer, so he tells Aaron, and wants to record a video of himself living a day in his life so that his yet-unborn son can know what his dad was like in case he doesn’t make it to his son’s birth. That’s all I’ll tell you in the way of plot, however, because the movie quickly goes to some fucking weird places.
I can tell you this, though: Creep is essentially a masterclass for Duplass’ acting talents, which the film proves to be quite formidable. Josef is the only character shown on-screen for about ninety percent of the movie, except for the few times Aaron turns the camera on himself to record his thoughts about the sociopathic weirdness on display here. Duplass really goes in here. There’s this intense earnestness about Josef that is deeply unsettling from the start, and he keeps pulling Aaron deeper and deeper into his grasp. Josef is both obviously insane and skilled at maintaining a pretense of civility in the manner of the best horror movie villains. I just can’t get over how good Duplass is here. His natural buddy-charm is marvellously inverted. It makes the film all the more interesting that Duplass and Brice wrote it together.
The movie derives its tension from Josef’s strangeness, and you find yourself squirming, just like Aaron, as Josef asks for their walk in the woods to go on just a little longer, for Aaron to stay for just one more drink, for Aaron to please stay the night. Aaron makes some logical attempts to get away, but can’t find any obvious reason to refuse Josef’s requests–the film is a battle between politeness and sociopathy, and Creep plays these moments with gut-churning tension. The film slowly reveals that Josef is definitely not what he seems, but Aaron keeps coming back to see Josef. His money is green, and Aaron’s out of work, but Aaron just can’t help but feel bad for the guy. You’ll just have to see how that works out for him.
The film’s tension builds and builds, and then, the climax is finally realized, you get this insight into Josef’s worldview and the way Aaron responded to him that totally changes the way you look at him. Creep isn’t just a movie showing off how good Mark Duplass can play a horror character. It’s actually a wry commentary on how horror protagonists are written, an inversion of the trope of a trusting, relatable character. Basically, this is one of the few found-footage movies that plays around with who finds the footage and how they got about finding it. When you chew on it for a long time, the reveal isn’t necessarily that satisfying, but it’s an interesting enough play that you don’t feel like you wasted your time.
Creep escapes most of the things holding found footage films back. The conceit makes sense, because Patrick is supposed to film everything he sees throughout the day. After a while, you’re happy that he does; you as the viewer desperately want him to be able to show someone what’s happening here. In fact, the creepiest scene in the movie happens when Josef asks Aaron to stop filming; Aaron surreptitiously leaves the sound recording, and you’re gripping your seat the whole time.
But the best part about Creep isn’t that it’s just not as bad as its contemporaries. It’s just actually good. It has a decently well-known actor lending his name and committing plenty of screen time to a small project (just like Duplass did in The One I Love, another great little flick) and giving a great performance, some incredible moments of tension with some effective jump scares, and a climax and denouement that are intensely affecting. When you watch Creep, it’s just you, Aaron, and Josef; and you know the movie succeeds because that thought is fucking terrifying.
*Before you click away in disgust as my obvious lack of horror knowledge, of course I know Blair Witch Project invented the style. We just didn’t see the hordes of imitators until Paramount happened upon the original PA.
Creep is a great display of Mark Duplass’ acting talents and an interesting exploration of the found-footage format. Worth your 80 minutes.