What the Hell Am I Doing Here? (Filming This Ominous Rich Guy): Creep

creep-1

Creep
Directed by Patrick Brice
Opens September 2 at Videology

Before this summer’s The Overnight shot him to fame and fortune, by which I mean a bunch of articles about stars wearing prosthetic penises, writer-director Patrick Brice made a movie with low-budget maestros Mark Duplass and Jason Blum, hybridizing Duplass’s loosely constructed slice-of-life style and Blum’s low-budget, often found-footage horror (not unlike the mumblehorror the Duplass Brothers already toyed with when they made Baghead). The result, Creep, debuted on iTunes shortly after The Overnight came out this summer; it’s now streaming on Netflix, and receiving a limited theatrical release that includes a one-week engagement at Videology in Williamsburg.

In retrospect, Creep shows how Brice gradually expanded into the low-key assurance of The Overnight: Before he made a four-character movie with just a few locations featuring recognizable stars, he made a two-character movie with just a few locations featuring an all-director cast. Brice himself plays Aaron, a videographer who answers an ad for a day’s work paying $1,000 and finds Josef (Duplass), a chatty, slightly odd fellow who makes Duplassian attempts to prop up his melancholy. Josef tells Aaron that he has an inoperable brain tumor, and wants footage of himself, living his regular life, to pass on to his unborn kid. But the specifics of “himself” start to look hazy, beyond his consistent predilection for engineering his own jump-scares for camera-holding Aaron.

Like The Overnight, Creep traffics in high-concept discomfort; instead of the endless dinner party with new friends, Josef offers seemingly endless new-friend intimacy (at one point stripping down to mime a first bath with his future baby), and Aaron starts to freak out. The found-footage conceit is used to kid genre conventions; when Aaron uses his camera to zoom in on a scary axe sitting in Josef’s yard, he tries to cut the tension with an understated, deadpan “hm.” There’s also some indulgences of what have become lazy formal go-tos for the format: Brice still employs the kind of jump cuts that make little sense for a camera that should be constantly running (though a few point-of-view twists kinda-sorta halfway justify them). The movie is most effective when it can’t look away from, say, a fixed shot of Duplass in backlit shadow, standing at the top of a stairway.

The novelty of Creep, then, is not from its played-out format, but rather the way it turns the affable, flaky Duplass into a figure of DIY menace. Though the movie feels padded even at eightysomething minutes (a scene where Aaron describes his nightmares to the camera offers the wrong kind of lull), it managers to generate real shivers out of very little. Brice certainly knows his way around intimate anxieties, genre-based or not.

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