Netflix and Chill: Indie mainstay Mark Duplass is troubled and troubling in Creep

Reading Time: 3 minutes


Ben Roden

Staff Writer



Director Patrick Brice’s new shoestring thriller doesn’t reinvent the found-footage genre, but punches above its weight, thanks to a captivating and deeply troubling performance from co-writer Mark Duplass.


Creep has taken a meandering path to general release following its premiere at SXSW in March of 2014; luckily, Brice wastes no time laying out his premise. Aaron (Patrick Brice), a cash-strapped amateur videographer, heads into a remote mountain town to answer a personal ad: A thousand dollars in cash for a day’s worth of filming. Discretion, the ad cryptically mentions, is appreciated.


Aaron arrives at an isolated vacation home and meets Josef (Mark Duplass), his friendly, yet clearly off-kilter cinematic subject for the day. After Josef introduces himself and lays out the details of his seemingly harmless project, Aaron begins filming, and things get weird.


If this premise seems at all familiar to you, it should; Duplass took out a similarly mysterious ad as Kenneth in 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, and there’s significant overlap in each of Duplass’ characters. Kenneth and Josef share a lack of social tact and a heartbreaking sense of loneliness, but where Kenneth is driven by impossible, irrepressible hope, Josef’s motivational undercurrents are much darker. As the film progresses, it becomes clear he’s more Norman Bates than Bob Wiley.


Josef’s interactions with Aaron are strange from the outset, but Aaron seems willing to tolerate his discomfort in light of Josef’s situation and glaring loneliness. He recognizes that Josef is troubled, but ultimately harmless. Aaron’s disquiet increases as Josef’s behavior becomes more erratic, but his fear never overcomes his pity. The constant tug of war between Aaron’s underlying empathy and growing panic is not only fascinating, but central to the unfolding of the plot.


Given the deft and manic tonal shifts in the film’s first two acts, it’s disappointing as the third abandons the ambiguity Bice has so carefully constructed. The ultimate payoff is tidy and well-constructed, but seems oddly conventional compared to all that has come before.


What makes Creep’s early exchanges so captivating is a sense of unbalance. For most of the film, we, like Aaron, aren’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or run for our lives. Creep is at its best when we’re not sure what kind of film we’re watching; Brice’s ending removes all doubt, and unfortunately, much of the impact.


Creep also suffers from the classic found-footage pitfall, which I’ve dubbed the ‘idiot cameraman’ effect. Horror films thrive on the poor judgment of their characters – how would the genre survive if victims called the police, held onto their car keys or elected not to split up to search the haunted house? Still, it’s especially hard to maintain credulity when a character is simultaneously running for his life and manipulating a camcorder to keep the pursuing killer in frame.


Despite its flaws, Creep entertains from start to finish. Brice and Duplass use the paltry budget to their advantage, showing admirable restraint and earning their scares the hard way. Rather than the gore and computer-generated gimmickry so common in the horror mainstream, Creep relies on unique characterization to generate the terror and madcap humor that make it so effective. Creep is a smart, funny thriller with a mesmerizing performance from Duplass, but an orthodox third act keeps it from being anything more.




Creep opens in cinemas September 2nd; in case you just bought textbooks, it’s also available on Netflix and iTunes.