Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice have stripped down the filmmaking process to its core with Creep, a twisted first-person account of a Craigslist ad gone wrong. Labeled “director” simply because he is the one holding the camera, Brice is an active participant in his own narrative, as one would expect from a film with a two-person cast list. Seldom jumpy (uncharted territory for a handheld horror), Creep relies on a savvy script and an uncanny Duplass to pull off an unthinkably fresh, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Aaron (Brice) is a filmmaker itching to work and willing to do almost anything in order to practice his craft. Setting up the story while driving his vintage yellow coupe, Aaron describes the miraculous advertisement that he is in the process of answering: one day of shooting, one-thousand dollars in cash, discretion appreciated. Cautiously optimistic about the unlikely ad in an isolated mountain environment, he displays an air of calm (almost ignorantly). Climbing the multitude of cliff-hugging stairs to his client’s door, Aaron pauses, completely out of breath, to focus on a foreboding axe shining in a stump. After fear prompts him to wait in his car, Aaron is startled by the trim, normal-looking Josef (Duplass) on his way home from a jog. A friendly, intimate man, Josef tells Aaron that he is a cancer survivor, who has unfortunately relapsed and only has two to three months to live. Wishing to document a day of his life for an unborn child, Josef basically wants to hang out for a day. And while things inevitably go wrong, Duplass and Brice’s awkward exchanges make it a challenge to pinpoint exactly how and when the plot will take a turn.
Surely the most astounding aspect of Creep is Brice’s ability to make found footage coherent. Presupposing Aaron’s talent as a filmmaker, the director is not forced to dumb down his cinematic techniques in order to adhere to an exhausted “some guy just bought a camera and wants to try it out” trope. Following the lead of films like Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren in the original Norwegian), Creep allows itself to flow cinematically with conscientious editing and framing, because of the identity and aspirations of its cameraman. Because Aaron spends his life telling stories, he is able to make interesting story-telling choices; he is never bound to in-camera editing or over-exaggerated shaking.
In spite of this assumed skill, Brice is able to fully embrace the freedoms afforded by his chosen style of direction. A free flowing, improvisational narrative allows Duplass to really explore the general menacing nature of his character without being bound by the rigidity of storyboarding or a set production schedule. Feeling almost as if Duplass told Brice to “stick with me,” Creep plays like the actor’s personal exploration of the depths to which his character might go while pushing the boundaries of sheer discomfort. A truly curious villain, Josef ingratiates himself with the audience as much as he does with his new friend. He certainly has some odd habits, and a penchant for over-sharing, but nothing is too off-putting. A delicately crafted persona, Josef has just enough quirks to raise some red flags while never sounding the alarm.
An interesting, indie-minded horror, Creep‘s simplicity adds to its effectiveness as a taught, jarring film. Full of an almost satirical take on the jump-scare, Brice and Duplass’ film shows that the subversion of overused trickery is a perfect means to lull an audience into an unwitting sense of calm.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.