Creep Feature

Creep Review: Laughing in Terror, Feeling Sorry About It, Then Just Being Terrified All Over Again

Friday, July 17, 2015 Rob Samuelson


Director: Patrick Brice
Writers: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Rating: Four and a half stars out of five.
Available now on Netflix and streaming services.

Found footage movies have a tendency to be all about form, a false mask of reality. This is partly a symptom of their inherent lack of budget, but a "good enough" mentality takes over when the reality of a person (or security cam, or whatever) focusing on a usually horrifying act induces a surface level visceral reaction in an audience. But they rarely leave an impact beyond the in-the-moment thrills.

Creep is different. On the simplest level, it is, like its found footage precursors, an experiment with form. But it molds that form into a weapon, marrying it to the function of great cinema -- guiding a viewer along a wide spectrum of emotions without becoming didactic and forceful. Yes, this 78-minute horror flick is an example of great cinema.

And it's all done by two guys. Writer-director Patrick Brice plays Aaron, an artsy type slumming it either out of necessity or lack of ambition, scrounging up filmmaking gigs of all kinds where he can get them. He answers a mysterious ad to record an all-day adventure for $1000. All well and good, except for the stipulation that his discretion is recommended -- don't tell anyone. Fine, fine, Aaron needs some money and can take a little shadiness to get there. But he gets to the secluded lake house and nobody's around. He waits at the door for a while before going back to his car when he sees a lone ax in a stump that makes him nervous. This is all shot as a video diary -- an aspect of modern life found footage movies are perfect to capture -- with him rationalizing all the while that he'll get the money, make it work, and get on with his life as he sits, both bored and a little on edge in the car.

And so we get the first jump scare. It's as simple as turning up the volume knob in the editing room as Josef (Mark Duplass) makes a high pitched greeting through the driver's side window. Under normal circumstances, the setup with the ax and isolation would not amount to much, even with Duplass jolting into view, but Brice's playful tweaking of the form -- sending the sound levels into the red on purpose -- takes it up a notch. It's not an example of revelatory genius, but it is a level of thoughtfulness that implies a higher quality of care being put into the product onscreen. It creates a solid base and takes off from there.

Josef explains the purpose for the visit. He wants to shoot a video of himself for his unborn son, whom he plans to name Buddy, in case he cannot overcome the brain cancer he has been diagnosed with. With the camera trained on Duplass's kind eyes as he talks about his dilemma, it's heartbreaking but tense at the same time. The wife he talks about is nowhere to be found. This is pretty much Horror Film 101 stuff here, but Duplass puts a sadness and slyness in Josef, wounded but unable to properly express it, and making awful, awful decisions because of this internal turmoil/sickness.

There is a heavy dose of "What the hell?" sneaking in at the edges of everything, including both characters. What's with the amateurish paintings of wolves on the walls? Why is Aaron so willing to offer up something so profoundly embarrassing about his (relatively recent) past? Why does Josef require Aaron to film him taking a "tubby" ("bath" to a normal person) with a pantomimed Buddy, just like Josef did with his dad?

And don't forget about Peach Fuzz. Peach Fuzz is one of the greatest filmic inventions of the year, genuinely out of left field. He's oddly charming, strangely cute, but a wild card of gargantuan and horrifying proportions. All. At. The. Same. Time. You have no clue at any time what he will do, which makes him silly and innocent with a liberal dose of please-leave-me-alone-this-isn't-happening-this-isn't-happening. Just trust me. Peach Fuzz for President.

The multifaceted nature of Creep is followed through in every moment of it. Brice makes two editing decisions, one in the middle, and one just before the coda, that are game changers for the film. They wipe the slate clean, call into question everything that comes before, especially Aaron's own sanity despite his positioning as the everyman we're supposed to identify with. They create an environment that makes anything possible, in a literal way. Danger is the quick-draw conclusion to come to here, but catharsis and goofy comedy are also on the table -- one of the film's final shots even makes it look like a dance number could break out, which would be just as great as what Brice and Duplass give us.

That Creep also incorporates shot compositions as beautiful as anything a consumer-grade handheld cam can show is not just gravy, but a statement of purpose. Brice is saying this found footage form, with its built-in cheapness (democratization of art!) can engage on every emotional level, more than just fear, which is arguably the easiest to elicit in movies. Where he elevates himself as a top flight purveyor of that form, though, is in how he fits these complicated, often contradictory emotions into every frame of it. There is a reason for everything. Nothing is easy for the viewer. Allegiances may not shift, but sympathies do constantly. An overall understanding of motivations slowly takes hold. The audience is not supposed to condone Josef's actions, but understanding them and encountering a sympathy for him at the same time as being repelled by him is a shockingly deft way of shaping a character.

And this makes Creep a masterwork of not just this still new genre, but of the wider scope of movies themselves.

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