Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 Movie a Day: Creep (2014)

"$1,000 for the day. Filming service. Discretion is appreciated." How broke would you have to be in order to drive out to a secluded house in the woods in response to that ad alone, and no other information? Whatever that level of monetary desperation is, Aaron (director Patrick Brice) has reached it. Or, perhaps, he's simply a glorious combination of naive and utterly idiotic. The ad, it turns out, was placed by a man dying of an unspecified illness who would like Aaron to film him wandering around and talking about himself to his unborn son whom he will not live to see. This man, Josef, is played by Mark Duplass as genial, a bit of a doofus, and never anything but insidiously creepy. From the very beginning he's throwing up nothing but red flags; the first thing he wants filmed is "tubby time" with his child, where he immediately strips and jumps into a bathtub where he cleans an imaginary baby and pretends to kiss it on the forehead. Things get worse from there.

The film's concept, that Aaron has taken the wrong job with the wrong weirdo, is a pretty solid- if familiar- setup for a horror film, and it utilizes its found-footage format more effectively than a lot of its contemporaries. The interviewer/interviewee dynamic gives a convenient reason for the camera to be on at all times, and the film's focus on portraying a rambling weirdo keeps the proceedings from devolving into incomprehensible shaky-cam madness. Once or twice near the end, though, Creep still runs up against that ever-present problem; why does Aaron keep filming? More specifically, there are scenes in the latter half of the film where Aaron is filming himself checking the mail, or sleeping, apparently because he knew the footage would be necessary in order to bridge the gap from point A to point B in the audience's mind.

Creep is a two man show; no other characters appear on screen, although we do hear someone claiming to be Josef's sister. It would be best for a prospective audience to adjust their expectations accordingly; this isn't going to be a gory or exciting or even particularly shocking horror movie, this is more like a chamber piece where the depths of one character's madness is slowly explored. Josef, the titular Creep, is the true star of the show, as he keeps up a running monologue of escalating weirdness and has the perfect knack for knowing when to dial it back. He spins a number of stories, and each time he's caught in a lie he has the perfect excuse, retconning the story to fit Aaron's new awareness. It's a trick he pulls a few times, making him seem like matryoshka doll of deceit. 

The film's one true failing is that Aaron is never quite able to keep up with Josef. At just over the halfway point in the movie, Creep switches locations, and we follow Aaron back at home, away from Josef. This duality within the film leaves it feeling very unbalanced, as Aaron is neither as interesting nor as dynamic as Josef. Aaron too often responds with befuddled silence to Josef's madness, which is probably fairly realistic, but means we never get any sense of him as a character. Aaron is incredibly undeveloped, and there's no real sense of tension in seeing him at home receiving video messages and trinkets from Josef. If Aaron had been more developed, or if he had been more involved in the interview process with Josef (if, say, those monologues had been dialogues), the film's tension would have expanded accordingly. As it is, this asymmetry draws attention to just how gimmicky and manufactured the film is. This film was clearly designed as an experiment in how to make a minimalist film, and too much attention is drawn to the film's sense of cleverness.

Still, it was an enjoyable enough ride, and I found it all worthwhile for the final encounter between Josef and Aaron, which gave me a small chuckle at first, and then a larger guffaw as the scene kept going and I realized exactly what it had all been leading up to. It's not hard to imagine that the entire film was put together just for that one nearly-final image.

Final Rating: 3(out of 5)

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