Director: Patrick Brice
Producers: Jason Blum, Mark Duplass
Writers: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Stars: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice
I dare you to name a movie scarier than CREEP (2014). I bet you can’t.
Granted, “scary” is a pretty subjective term; some might be most frightened by blood and guts, some by truly grotesque monsters. If you’re like me, you most vehemently fear the psychopath, an antagonist who is truly deranged. CREEP lacks the former two, but represents the latter—in droves.
When filmmaker Aaron (Patrick Brice) responds to a Wanted ad for a short-term freelance gig, he is uncertain what the assignment is—the ad is vague, and Aaron jokes on the way to the job about it being a spinster’s bid for male attention—but he is optimistic, and willing to go out on a limb for some cash. When his client, Josef (Mark Duplass)—late for their meeting—finally hits the scene, he explains to Aaron that he has cancer and, given the bleak prognosis he has been given, will likely die in a matter of months. He has hired Aaron, he explains, to record a short video to leave behind to his unborn son after his death, an imitation of Michael Keaton in MY LIFE (1993). Aaron is struck by Josef’s tragic situation but, as the film progresses, it dawns on him that he has matters of his own safety to contend with …
CREEP is a masterpiece in minimalism and easily the most effectively terrifying found-footage horror flick since its takeoff with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007). The found-footage structure in itself lends itself to minimalism—there is only diegetic sound, unnervingly unpolished shots, and the telltale shaky frame, another powerful illusion of authenticity. Each shot, too, is starkly minimal. The interior of the house where Josef has invited Aaron, where the film’s climax occurs, is bare—all simple lines, white space, and the occasional offbeat feature to interrupt the sameness (the yellow front door, a tree stump bearing an ax, paintings of bears hanging on the walls).
Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice—Brice directs, both write—have transcended formal minimalism by limiting the characters to solely Josef and Aaron. (That cast and crew summary above? That’s EVERYONE involved in CREEP: three people.) Josef occupies almost every frame, giving audiences the same unsettling prolonged look at who he might be that Aaron sustains for the entirety of the eighty-seven-minute film. Aaron, the cameraman, is often silent, listening to Josef and quietly filming, which gives Josef plenty of screen time for bizarre, meandering monologues and off-putting questions, which he aims Aaron’s way to force him to converse (“Anyone you need to make peace with? Before you die?” he asks innocently at one point, sending Aaron stammering). The dialogue is simple—none of the detailed extended metaphors in IT (1990) or blatant underlying philosophy in the SAW franchise (2004-present) here—but rather a sparse script where Josef talks and Aaron sometimes answers.
The reason why Brice and Duplass can get away with such dedicated minimalism is that the film doesn’t need it—extended close-ups of Josef are quite enough to rouse terror, no special effects needed. Duplass shines as the star of the film—his portrayal of Josef is so chillingly convincing that I can’t see him in anything else without flinching. Duplass becomes Josef so thoroughly that the lines seem to drift quite naturally from his mouth, rendering Aaron’s nervousness all the more realistic. He has every reason to be. Something is not right.
Something is not right, but that doesn’t mean that CREEP will necessarily set you screaming. It’s deeply, deeply frightening (as I’ve already established) but also, at times, hilarious. When Duplass and Brice began shooting CREEP, they intended to create a dark comedy. Duplass reports that neither of them realized how much Josef disturbed audiences until they observed a screening—and realized that viewers were absolutely terrified. Still, scary or not, there’s a good chance you’ll get a few laughs in. At the core of this ghastly film is sheer absurdity: the fear and hilarity of the extremely strange. This is a part of its brilliance: instead of setting out to make a scary movie, the filmmakers were determined to make a convincingly genuine film. As a result, CREEP is versatile, enchanting, and repulsive all at once.
Ironically, CREEP had every reason to fail. BH Tilt is notoriously Blumhouse’s least successful production company, designed for multi-platform release and, given the occasional skip past theatrical release, at times lacking in quality. (BH Tilt’s very first release was THE GREEN INFERNO .) Additionally, much of the material was ad-libbed during conversations between Duplass and Brice, which could have given the script a shoddy quality. They shot sections of the film, then screened them, then made revisions to the script, and then re-filmed, an exhaustive process that could have killed the script’s creativity. Instead, it sings with authenticity.
- Mental illness
- Sexual assault mention