Creep (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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4Aug/150

Creep (2015)

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Aaron is strapped for cash and spots an unusual ad.  All he's asked for is his time and a camera, and in return he'll receive a handsome sum of money.  But Aaron's suspicions grow as his client, Josef, grows incredibly clingy, is unfamiliar with the haunts he supposedly frequents, and keeps an axe handy in the yard.  Patrick Brice directs Creep from a screenplay written by, and starring, Brice and Mark Duplass.

This is going to end well isn't itAfter watching Clouds of Sils Maria last week, I marveled at just how perfectly a performer can sometimes slip into a role. Creep provides a useful illustration in the opposite direction. Mark Duplass, who also cowrote the film with director and costar Patrick Brice, is a man of considerable creative talents which so far have not extended to being in front of the camera. Part of the problem is he’s had to share the screen with the likes of Elizabeth Moss, who is one of the best actresses working today, and the other is his performances reek of semi-sincerity which throws the films he is present in off. I’m sure there is a film which could use this sort of off-kilter persona to its advantage, but the found-footage horror of Creep is not that film.

Duplass is the main, but not only, source of concern when it comes to the twists Creep has in store for its viewers. But he is the situationally perfect conduit to underline just how awkward the main twists in the screenplay are, and with Brice on standby to deliver a reliably dull everyman performance most of my attention was directed to Duplass. But since this is Brice and Duplass’ creation in sharing all credits except for direction, I have to question just what they were thinking in creating a film in the genre of “found-footage horror but just kidding maybe it’s a comedy maybe not”.

As an audience member, it's easy to tell how this relationship will end when this is the first thing Aaron records Josef doing.

As an audience member, it's easy to tell how this relationship will end when this is the first thing Aaron records Josef doing.

The question I start on, as with any found-footage film, is to consider just who is assembling the found-footage together and for what audience. One of the pleasures of the underrated Project Almanac was watching how the film came together as part college application highlight reel and part confessional. But with the twists in Creep that becomes a little harder to pin down because if Josef (Duplass) is the author then the footage is edited together in such a way which denies Josef the pleasure he gets from toying with poor Aaron (Brice). But if it’s a third party, there’s not enough edited together to show Josef and Aaron’s story either as a cautionary tale or collection of Josef’s odder tendencies.

This is part of what makes reviewing found-footage films so difficult, because we’re taking in many layers of editing and shot choice together to figure out the intended fictional audience as an audience member. So many found-footage horror films fail either because they try to explain their world but bog the audience down in either exposition or introducing lingering unresolved details. In either case it shows a lack of faith in the source material, and since our source material is Josef’s weirdness and that’s inextricably tied with Duplass’ performance, it creates a unique set of problems.

Creep is at its best when Duplass and Brice highlight how odd Aaron is instead of the potential physical danger he represents. There’s an early moment which uses Duplass’ ability to convey unease well as he nervously fumbles through a menu at a restaurant he’s supposedly been to previously before turning the camera back on Aaron. It’s a great use of the medium of found-footage to highlight Josef’s dishonesty and how those with the slightest bit of money and privilege will use different means to make those who need them uncomfortable. This also serves Duplass well when it seems Josef is a particularly creepy annoyance after some late film twists instead of a violent man.

But both in the screenplay’s dialogue and scenario choices it sets up Josef as being something more than a creepy man early on. Part of this has to do with the fact that our introduction to the character is via Duplass’ stretched out smile and Josef’s willingness to jump out at Aaron around any corner possible. We’re primed to think Josef is potentially violent from years of serial killer movies and how Josef is about as polite as Norman Bates. So as each one of Josef’s actions lend further weight to the “happy serial killer” it makes each action more of a predictable slog to get through. Josef’s already creepy, so having Aaron sit around and film Josef in the tub as Josef talks to a baby he thinks he won’t live to see is just waiting for the next Josef scream, and less curious about what’s making Josef act this way.

Brice is a reliably flustered everyman, but reliability is not enough to generate interest.

Brice is a reliably flustered everyman, but reliability is not enough to generate interest.

Since Josef is set up so heavily to be violently insane in these early clues it makes the interesting late film twists something of a tragic waste. I liked the moments Duplass and Brice set Josef up to be unusually creepy before Josef reveals himself to be every bit the typical monster we expect. It begs the question of why Duplass and Brice even put those bits of misdirection in there if it’s just another serial killer story. They add unusual flair, sure, but it doesn’t change anything about the implications of Aaron and Josef’s relationship that couldn’t have been done with a straight-ahead serial killer found-footage film without the flirtation with Josef being an “innocent” creep.

The turning point of the film, where Josef tells Aaron what Josef did to his wife when he suspected her of being attracted to animals, shows how they could have used the restraint of found-footage to unsettling effect. But Duplass and Brice’s screenplay teases without bringing the potential out, and Duplass performance highlights the conclusion easily guessed at from the opening scenes. Creep had a lot of promise, but is just a showcase for as bland a murderer as cinema can offer.

If you enjoy my writing or podcast work, please consider becoming a monthly Patron or sending a one-time contribution! Every bit helps keep Can't Stop the Movies running and moving toward making it my day job.

Tail - CreepCreep (2015)

Directed by Patrick Brice.
Screenplay written by Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass.

Posted by Andrew

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