Last year I wrote about ways the found footage genre of horror films could improve itself, because even though those movies are really easy to mock I love them and want to see them succeed. One of my suggestions had to do with making the antagonistic presence an actual character and not just a largely unseen purveyor of jump scares. The latter can absolutely work, but when it’s almost exclusively what these kinds of movies gravitate towards, it gets boring.
Right after that article got posted, I saw two found footage movies that took that suggestion to heart. The first was M. Night Shyamalan’s “comeback” The Visit. And while I watched it fully with the expectation and hope it would be a trainwreck, I ended up enjoying it. That film already received a fair amount of attention and critical praise, however, so today I wanted to focus on the second movie: Creep.
The basic set up is simple: Aaron (director Patrick Brice) answers a Craigslist ad for a videographer, offering $1,000 to film the client for a day. (Sidenote: Can answering a Craigslist ad end in anything other than a horror movie?) The client turns out to be Josef (Mark Duplass) who tells Aaron he has a brain tumor and wants to leave a day-in-the-life video behind for his unborn son a la My Life. But there is something a little off about Josef, and as the day goes on more and more red flags emerge until Aaron finds himself in a situation he never anticipated only because he does not realize he is in a horror movie.
Despite that basic plot, Creep is a very weird movie.
The premise lends itself more to tense character study, and not the found footage horror style the film maintains. But the oddball nature of the movie mostly works, due largely to Duplass’ performance. I mentioned in the introduction to my post last week that there is a thin line between horror and comedy, and Duplass and the movie exploit that to great effect. Josef comes across as a goofy and sincere guy when we first meet him, with a very “dad” sense of humor. As Aaron (and the audience) learn more about him, those same quirks slowly become more menacing, even though Josef’s personality hasn’t actually changed. Duplass is able to straddle the line between goofy and off-putting, shifting slightly and organically with each story beat. This gives scenes like “tubby time,” which in another movie could be played completely for laughs, an unsettling undertone.
And this is where the found footage set up becomes an unexpected asset. By seeing Josef exclusively through Aaron’s POV, his character reveals himself to us in real time as he opens up to Aaron. This is very much a psychological horror movie, not the jump-scare fun house most found footage movies end up being. Yet the style lends itself well to engaging a character in such an intimate fashion, and this helps offset the lack of dynamic shots and staging. Ultimately the movie is about manipulation and forcing a relationship upon someone who does not want it (like an even more unsettling version of The Cable Guy), and putting us in the shoes of the person having that thrust upon us proves effective. It also helps because Aaron is an incredibly boring and undefined character, so keeping the focus on Josef can only help.
When Creep does decide to act like a typical found footage movie, it does so with gusto. The standout scene of the film finds Aaron wandering through Josef’s house at night trying to find his keys only to realize Josef is no longer sleeping and he no longer knows where he is. All of a sudden, all the times Josef jumped out to scare Aaron as a joke earlier in the movie seem a little more sinister. It also culminates in a truly creepy encounter that will forever change how you feel about the term “peach fuzz.”
Creep is not a movie for everyone. It’s weird, uncomfortable, and occupies a weird nether realm of both cringe comedy and psychological horror. To a certain extent it’s a movie that’s easier to appreciate as opposed to actually liking it. But doing something different counts for something, and being able to take the often cliché-ridden genre of found footage in a new direction is worth checking out for the curiosity factor.