It’s pretty much accepted that the found footage subgenre is dead. What captivated me in The Blair Witch Project, started to annoy me in Paranormal Activity 2 and outright bored me in Cloverfield. The shaky cam, the jolt to a cheap jump scare, the close-up of a teary face – it’s all been done. With one or two exceptions (such as the wonderful Spanish flick, [REC]), I tend to steer well clear of these lazy cash cows. The nail in the coffin has been the sheer volume of them working the straight-to-DVD circuit, or worse, a box office release. Just when I thought all was lost, Creep claws its way out of this putrid mass grave.
Unnerving, understated and unexpectedly hilarious, the plot is thus; a broke and desperate videographer, Aaron (Patrick Brice) takes a job in a remote mountain town. Here he finds his client – a disturbingly upbeat cancer patient, Josef (Mark Duplass). Planning to leave a video message to his unborn son, Josef instructs Aaron to follow him through a typical day for a £1,000 paycheck. It seems like easy money.
An irritating yet endearing oddball, Josef is immediately gushing and demonstrative. Following lingering shots of the skeletal woods behind his cabin and an axe wedged in a tree stump, these first scenes form an unsettling juxtaposition. From something as simple as Aaron pulling up outside and Josef greeting him, Creep is already tickling your alert systems. This is, of course, aided by the fact that the entire film is shot on a handheld camera. This adds to the low-budget charm and realism that the aforementioned films have tried desperately to emulate.
Luckily, Creep has both the substance and the style.
Their first ‘official’ recording is of Josef in the bath. He pretends to bathe his unborn son, addressing the camera directly. This starts as painfully awkward and veers into tragic, then ends with roaring disquiet. Most of Brice’s acting is done with his voice from behind the camera, and he conveys beautifully just how polite people will be in the face of obvious boundary-stepping. He’s clearly uncomfortable with both Josef’s nudity and oversharing, but, well, his new friend just seems so harmless. This is a theme that continues throughout; Josef’s “weird sense of humour” continues to escalate and Aaron is too meek to argue.
Right from the off, Duplass sows the seeds that he may not be all he seems. Even when these seeds become a big ol’ tree, Creep keeps you guessing which branch it will take until the final chapter. Most film-goers will probably play the game with themselves throughout, second-guessing who is the victim and who is the danger. Subtle slips of the tongue are particularly well used, prompting suspicion from both Aaron and the viewer. A certain conversation (partially shown in the trailer) calls into question everything you’ve been told so far and you swing wildly between being petrified of Josef and pitying him.
Creep is a two-man show, which works well in its short run-time. Duplass is an electrifyingly good actor and ever since Safety Not Guaranteed, I’ve been hoping for him to make another appearance. Brice also does well but doesn’t have as much opportunity as Duplass until the latter half. Regardless, both are highly believable performances, which might be unsurprising considering they both wrote the script and Brice directed. The lack of any other human interaction keeps the intensity levels set to maximum.
The only respite is at Josef’s whim.
Skillfully dodging the common tropes, Creep manages to be original at a time the genre is drowning in derivation. For one, it’s set mostly in the daytime. This is testament to the film-making, as some of the most distressing moments take place in broad daylight. Even at night, a spooked Aaron runs room to room in the dark mumbling “lights, lights, lights” as he flips switches. This is not a film where you question the IQ of the lead and despite being littered with a few jump scares, these are essential to setting the tone. Josef ‘affectionately’ pranks Aaron at every opportunity and sometimes seems to address the viewer. Christ, Creep is so clever, even the jump scares are meta.
The last way that Creep subverts the genre (apart from being good), is that it stands defiant of the female victim archetype. A ripple of latent homosexuality runs throughout. The authorities act as you might imagine in a small mountain town – completely dismissing any man-on-man obsession. Would they ignore a young, helpless female in the same situation? I think not. This only ramps up the tension when you realise that it really is just Josef and Aaron for the duration. Oh, and Peachfuzz, but don’t worry about him. He’s furry, not frightening.
Verdict: Surpassing almost every other found footage horror in both pacing and heart, it is the holy trinity of well-crafted writing, acting and direction. A low budget masterpiece – I dare you not to like it.