Looking for work, Aaron (Patrick Brice) comes across a cryptic online ad: "$1,000 for the day. Filming service. Discretion is appreciated". Low on cash and full of naiveté, he decides to go for it. He drives to a cabin in a remote mountain town where he meets Josef (Mark Duplass), his cinematic subject for the day. Josef is sincere and the project seems heartfelt, so Aaron begins to film. But as the day goes on, it becomes clear that Josef is not who he says, and his intentions are not at all pure. The directorial debut of Patrick Brice and produced by Jason Blum and Mark Duplass, Creep's intense interplay between its two protagonists upends expectations at every turn.
Mark Duplass aims to frighten the viewer quite furiously and effectively in the found-footage horror movie Creep. His character Josef invites filmmaker Aaron (Patrick Brice, also the film’s director) to his cabin for a filming gig. Josef doesn’t seem like that crazy of a guy. His tone of solitude comes through slightly, but he appears to have a genuinely friendly tone. Naturally, being a client from Craigslist, there’s a natural unease to such a man who seems to be sincere, but ultimately darker than he lets on. You can sense that this guy is probably going to murder someone (or has murdered others prior), but the slow burn of his personality makes this found-footage thriller work surprisingly well.
The format of this film actually makes sense for its premise rather than just being a “dude, let’s shoot viral video” scenario. Aaron accepts Josef’s proposition to film his life for $1,000. The purpose of the video is to pass it on to his yet-to-be-born son after Josef passes away from cancer in a few months. Josef lets it all hang out the way he gets very intimate with the camera by talking to his son from the future. He attempts to mimic what it would be like to wash his child during tub time. It’s a moment that appears equal parts sweet and disturbing. You can sense he’s drawing his eccentric nature from a deeper part of his soul, but it’s perhaps deeper and darker than it appears. As the filming continues, Aaron begins to fear for his safety the way Josef seems intentionally trying to scare and trap him. It isn’t too long before Josef’s true demons start coming out of the closet.
The first act is scary enough the way Josef opens up and unloads on Aaron, but the second is far more terrifying for how little we see of Josef. You’d think that after escaping Josef’s horrifying house of scares the nightmare would be over. But Aaron continues to keep his camera rolling at this point, fearing for his life. Of course, the camera has to be left on so we can witness all the scary stuff that Aaron doesn’t see. Josef continues to send Aaron disturbing videos and packages. He sneaks into his house while he’s asleep to cut his hair and leave him gifts. The cops can do nothing to help Aaron because, as with most craigslist creeps, there’s not much info on this stalker which Aaron stupidly forgot to ask for. Yet another don’t-let-this-happen-to-you type of movie.
So, of course, this setup sets off all kinds of alarms the moment we see Josef jump-scare the camera in his entrance. Thankfully, there’s a certain level of intelligence for how Aaron proceeds through these unknown waters. He seriously takes the documentarian route of not asking many questions despite Josef conversing with him quite a bit. Wanting to record a final testament to your son before your death can be a stressful experience and it isn’t until a few scenes later that Aaron suspects something is seriously wrong. Josef even cites the sweet movie version of this concept - My Life starring Michael Keaton - hinting at Creep being a twisted revision of that picture. In some respects, it does mirror a sense of love for the character of Josef in trying to figure him out. At times, Aaron does feel genuinely sad for this guy even after all the disturbing stuff he’s done to him. Part of Josef still wants to be a caring friend even if he’s a dangerous psychopath.
Creep takes all the involvement of a found-footage film and meshes it beautifully with a stalker thriller that is anything but expected. It breathes with a clever mix of unique twists and character examinations on a portrait of a deranged man. The anticipation builds thanks to Mark Duplass’ layered performance of an emotional crazy and Patrick Brice acting naturally as a filmmaker. If producer Jason Blum is willing to keep this found-footage format alive (as he started the resurgence with Paranormal Activity), I’m glad he’s at least seeking more creative and inventive productions such as this. It’s impressive that a film which comes with an intentionally scary wolf costume is the most underused and least frightening aspect of the whole experience. Duplass is much less terrifying with the wolf mask on because at least then you can see his true form. As himself, with a bright face and strong personality, he’s unpredictably scary.
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Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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