Shortly after I submitted my 2015 horror round-up aka every Halloween is self-parody Halloween, I found myself thinking, You know, maybe I only think contemporary indie horror doesn’t do enough male vulnerability because I still haven’t seen Creep.
Now I’ve seen Creep and boy howdy, I was right.
This is a truly skin-crawly, high-tension film about the increasingly uncomfortable relationship between Josef and the younger man, Aaron, whom he hires to film him for a day. We know the title of the movie so we’re super freaked out from the very beginning, but it’s easy to understand exactly how Aaron ends up ignoring and talking himself out of his fears until it’s way too late. Creep would be super Gift of Fear-y even if Josef didn’t check off like five of the six “Pre-Incident Indicators.”
I loved so much about this short, nerve-wracking movie. At its core this is a movie about what it looks like to confuse need with love. I am lonely, therefore I deserve your love. Love as need, not as self-gift; love as food, which the starving can steal. I deserve to be loved even when I’m undeserving!–aka the utterly sympathetic belief that will ruin all your relationships.
“You have a kind face,” Josef tells Aaron early on; and, later, Aaron watches a video of Josef and muses, “Look at him! He’s so lonely.” And there’s something lurking under Aaron’s surface, something unsettling, unguided, something that responds to the much more ferocious and habituated creature lurking inside Josef.
ETA: Both actors are so convincing and committed. Patrick Brice as Aaron is a squirrelly everygeek, awkward in a normal way. Mark Duplass as Josef is lots of things at once but all the splinters seem to come from the same long-ago-splintered thing. This is a found-footage film, but under Brice’s direction the found-footage element doesn’t become intrusive or cliched.Both Aaron and Joseph blur the lines between several different forms of love: friendship, father-son relationships, romantic love. This blurriness contributes to the childlike feeling of their relationship. Overgrown and unsupervised children, playing with knives.
There are some truly memorable images in here–PEACH FUZZ will haunt my nightmares for a very long time–and some real, aching sadness. Creep plays with our sympathies: Sometimes Joseph seems like a sociopathic manipulator, but sometimes he seems like a friendless child who has never been taught how to behave. I thought of Iris Murdoch’s description of Lily Boyne in The Book and the Brotherhood: “She seemed to have few friends and little notion of how to conduct her life,” two conditions which generally, understandably, unfairly go together. The friendlessness is heartbreaking (the heart-shaped pool!) even when the movie wants Joseph to be calculating.
I did think the ending swayed way too far into typical genre-horror. I would have ended this movie about three minutes earlier: at the end of the scene at the lakeside. If not there, then definitely after the word “favorite.” Everything after that is a symptom of failing to trust your audience. We get it. Stop pushing! The ending makes Joseph a much less interesting character, much more standard-issue. But up until that point this is a really fantastic indie horror flick. Highly recommended.