★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
An apt title. It also could have been called Weirdo. (Paging Thom Yorke!)
The most effective and affecting found footage horror movies bank on authenticity. The shaky camera trope when done right has the ability to place you right at the site of the crime… story. The difficulty that many found footage movies is that they have to establish a good rationale as to why the handheld camera is being used in the first place. The old chestnut of the student film has been done to death, pun intended, as is the trope of the TV crew looking to confirm a local legend. Done. To. Death. Creep found a creative way to integrate the found footage premise and manages to lift itself above its peers.
Patrick Brice stars and directs this film, and Mark Duplass, of the LOL-worthy comedy The League on FX also stars. This is entirely a two-person film, with the two of them improvising off of each other, and their improvisation skills come in huge by getting true reaction shots. According to IMDB, the film was initially intended to be more comedy than horror, but after consulting with their friends and colleagues flipped that ratio, and it became much more of a horror movie, but it does retain a good bit of its humor. It does have a lot of moments where you titter in a “Hee hee… oh God let’s get out of there!” way. This film was a big hit on the SXSW festival, which has become a fantastic launching ground for indie horror projects.
PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!
Patrick Brice plays Aaron, a videographer who has responded to a Craigslist ad, looking for someone to follow them around for a day. Not much else is known about this request, but the person is very vague about what the shoot will be about other than the locale in a remote Sierra Nevada CABIN IN THE WOODS. Yeah… warning flags, there. When Aaron arrives at the cabin he was summoned to, nobody is there to greet him, and he retreats back to his car. A second warning flag comes in the form of an axe on a chopping block in front of the cabin, in a bit of blunt foreshadowing. Aaron continues to record in his car, debating whether to stick around, when he gets surprised by Joseph (Mark Duplass, of The League comedy series on FX).
Joseph explains to Aaron that he’s dying of cancer and that he has an unborn son, whom he wants to chronicle a day in his life for. Perfectly plausible. Perfectly reasonable. But almost immediately, Joseph insists on taking a bath to do a “tubby time” segment that he laments he may never get to do with his son to be. OK. Weird. But as an audience, we’re willing to stick with it… though given the title of the movie, yeah, we know what’s up. Duplass makes tubby time both goofy fun and really awkward, and milks the scene by doing some odd pantomime and then straight exposition to his kid and then back to awkward pantomime.
This was a terrific scene to establish the tone of the movie. On the surface, the scene is a loving and warm message to the camera, but all around it the darkness is seeping out on the edges. The creepy undertones are immediate, but with Aaron substituting for you behind the camera, you can’t just get up and leave. Also, Aaron is there to do a job, and wants to get paid, so he keeps the camera on this guy. Plus, you also get the sense that as odd as Joseph is, Aaron thinks it will make a good portfolio piece, or at a minimum a good story. Aaron also happens to be a much bigger man than Joseph, so he could probably overpower him if he had to.
After “tubby time”, Aaron stumbles across a cheap Halloween werewolf mask in a closet, frightening him. Joseph puts the mask on, and to put Aaron at ease, he sings a nursery rhyme that his father purportedly sang to him, and dances an awkward jig. Yeah. That didn’t put ANYONE at ease. Again… very creepy. As the two of them continue on their day, with the camera rolling, Joseph offers up a series of confessions which shift the tone from eccentric oddball to dangerous stalker. Joseph’s expressions also shift wildly from impish boyishness to straight deadpan. Aaron’s fears are finally confirmed when he manages to talk with Joseph’s sister by cell phone who tells him to get away from Joseph, that Joseph does not have cancer, and does not have a wife or child on the way. Aaron and Joseph then have a throwdown, and Aaron indeed gets the better of Joseph.
Act three has Joesph now in full stalker mode, tracking Aaron down where he lives and sending him strange gifts and videos. Because Aaron did not properly get Joseph’s information, the cops are unwilling to assist. Clearly, Joseph, like his werewolf icon, is circling his prey and closing in. The ending itself, I found to be very abrupt, and initially satisfying, but a revelation at the end didn’t really sit well with me… insinuating a sequel to come, and indeed, Creep 2 came out shortly after this. I applaud Brice’s editing instincts. He takes huge advantage of the rough cutting that a found footage allows. The abrupt breaks and re-starts of the film have you wondering how much time has elapsed and has you mentally trying to fill in the blanks in a very satisfying way. Clearly teaming with Blumhouse, the House that Paranormal built, paid off. This movie had me cringing a lot, and the anxiety infused moments of the film were really unnerving. Scary? Mildly. Unsettling? Absolutely! Creep had me shouting at the television.
Let this be a warning to would-be videographers! Bring backup!
Creep is rated R, and is available on most streaming platforms. This is a pretty good gateway film, decent for nascent scaredy cats and I think it would be OK for 14 and up.