We all know that guy – the one who hovers at the edge of the party, with a too-broad grin and awkward posture; the one who manages to find the strangest way to look at any one conversation topic, then suggests even stranger ones; the one who would be nice enough if he didn’t seem so off.
And that’s what makes Creep, a micro-budgeted exercise in skin-crawling discomfort from the ace two-man team of Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice (both star and co-wrote the script, and Brice directed), work so well. Its titular weirdo, Josef (played brilliantly by Duplass), will be innately familiar to most viewers, and his actions, though peculiar, never seem all that outlandish. Chances are, you’ve met someone like Josef, with a manner of speech both stilted and gregarious, and dark eyes that are difficult to get a read on.
Chances are, you’ve also met someone like Aaron (Brice), a schlub with a video camera who responds to Josef’s Craiglist ad asking for a videographer to record him for a day (the movie, the latest to use the found-footage format, is entirely strung together from what said camera records). Strapped for cash, Aaron is perturbed when Josef turns out to be a bit eccentric but nowhere near worried enough about it to leave, especially when his client reveals that the video to be made is not for him but his unborn son. You see, Josef has cancer, and he’s trying to leave some trace of himself behind for his child to hold onto. It seems like a noble purpose, and Aaron is happy enough to help – but is that what’s really going on? Or is Josef up to something slightly more sinister?
Creep holds its cards close to the chest, at least at first. Watching Aaron and Josef interact, the former slowly getting a feel for the latter, is enjoyable and occasionally hilarious, especially as the kookier aspects of Josef’s existence in the woodland cabin he calls home come into view. For a time, Creep isn’t really all that creepy – one might hesitate at filing it into the horror genre. But the more time that Aaron spends with the guy, the more it becomes clear that Josef might not totally harmless – and the more Creep shows its surprisingly sharpened teeth.
To say any more about what Josef has in store for Aaron would be venturing into spoiler territory, and Creep is a gift best unwrapped in person. Suffice to say, Brice and Duplass are experts in audience manipulation, and as Creep eases up on the laughs in favor of stomach-turning dread, they don’t miss a trick.
The mumblecore genre, with its low-key conversations and unintrusive camerawork, isn’t one that’s typically exploited for scares, but here it works to sell Josef as someone who’s most terrifying in how realistic he feels (the guy’s a fawning, obsequious psycho, never aggressive enough to frighten the fish he’s reeling in). Brice and Duplass share a naturalistic on-screen chemistry that clearly extended behind the scenes – for something like Creep to really work, it had to be executed damn near perfectly, and the duo appear to have been on the same wavelength every step of the way. Their reappropriation of mumblecore could work to upend that subgenre and pave the way for a lasting new partnership with low-budget horror outlets like Blumhouse.
That’s not to say Creep is an entirely flawless film – its basic conceit is a simple one, sometimes so much so that certain aspects of both characters beg for a further exploration they don’t get – but it is an uncommonly well-executed one. The sheer amount of suspense that’s pulled out of conversations between Josef and Aaron is pretty incredible, and that the movie never feels slow even in its most protracted scenes is a minor miracle. Found footage has become one of the most maligned plot devices in all of horror cinema over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. Though the financial appeal of such a format is undeniable, it takes much more than just a guy with a camera to make a genuinely scary found-footage movie – it takes a vision, and a whole lot of skill.
Luckily, Brice and Duplass bring both to the table in Creep, as well as an undisguised enthusiasm for the project that often leaks through onto the screen. That verve, and the distinctive personality that Creep often displays, makes all the difference. In terms of narrative, the movie follows a fairly traditional arc, and though it does boast a pretty killer sting in its tail, what really makes Creep scary is how it constructs two alternately sympathetic and contemptible characters then demonstrates a passion and perverse mean streak toward them both. It tickles your funny bone and screws with your head even as it shreds your nerves – and the overall effect is not only riveting, but creepy as hell.
Creep will tickle your funny bone and screw with your head - even as it rips your nerves to shreds.