Friday, July 24, 2015

Found Footage Friday: Creep (2015)

(Beware of spoilers!)

In the past, more than one reader here on the blog has questioned my unswerving love for the found footage format. 

When asked, my answer, is always the same:  I believe that the found footage format is incredibly versatile, and that it affords the filmmaker -- especially the indie filmmaker -- ample opportunity to explore and innovate across many genres. Because of the experiential aspect of found footage, the filmmaker can also make films that feel simultaneously urgent and intimate.

Think about it.

We’ve already had a found-footage kaiju movie (Cloverfield [2008]), a superhero movie (Chronicle [2012] and time travel movie (Project Almanac [2015]). 

In the horror genre alone, we’ve seen many sub-genres revived in and adapted to the found footage format as well.

We’ve had the evil kids found-footage film (Home Movie [2008]), the environmental horror film (The Bay [2012]), and even the space horror film (Apollo 11 [2011] and Europa Report [2012]). 

All the old monsters -- from vampires (Affliction [2014]) to werewolves (Wer [2014]) to Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein Theory [2013]) -- have been re-interpreted through the lens and parameters of found footage too.

Now, Patrick Brice’s and Mark Duplass’s Creep (2015) arrives and provides the found footage horror film its latest shot in the arm. This is a wickedly funny, and deeply disturbing genre film about the (apparently) blurry line between friendship and, well, stalking.

Creep’s first half hour, in particular, is hysterically funny, in large part due to Mark Duplass’s incredible, unblinking performance as the over-sharing, boundary-jumping, infinitely needy Josef. Then, the film’s last hour escalates from real humor to queasy discomfort to outright horror, to, finally, weird human tragedy.

In this process of narrative transformation, Creep offers  audiences one of the most human, intimate and thoughtful found footage movies yet produced, and gives the format one of its greatest -- and most unexpected -- boogeymen.

 “I have a weird sense of humor.”

An amateur videographer, Aaron (Patrick Brice) answers a Craigslist ad for a day’s worth of work.  

He travels to Crestline, a nice lakeside community, to meet his client. At first, Aaron finds nobody home at the resort house, only an axe positioned menacingly in the front yard.

Soon, however, Aaron is startled by the appearance of Josef (Mark Duplass) an overly-enthusiastic, prematurely intimate man in tight exercise pants who outlines the details of the job for him. 

Basically, Josef is dying of cancer. He has only weeks to live, but his wife, Angela, is pregnant with their unborn child…whom Josef has named “Buddy.” 

Inspired by the film My Life (1993) starring Michael Keaton, Josef wants Aaron to film a day in his life, so his son will know him.  They are making a tape for Buddy.

Aaron agrees, and follows Josef to his bathroom, where he strips naked and proceeds to take a “tubby” (a bath), demonstrating for the camera how he would bathe his baby.

Later, Josef shows Aaron a creepy wolf mask in his closet, and says that it is “Peach Fuzz,” a gift from his father. Josef then performs the Peach Fuzz dance, hoping to demonstrate that the monster is harmless.

At the end of a long day of filming, Aaron can’t find his car keys, and quickly becomes convinced that Josef has taken them, so that he can’t leave, that he can’t go home.  

With night falling, Aaron drugs Josef with Benedryl and searches for his keys. 

When the unconscious Josef’s phone rings, however, Aaron answers it and talks to Angela.  It turns out she is not his wife, but his sister.  And that everything Josef has told Aaron is a lie.  "My brother has problems," Angela tells Aaron.

Now Aaron must escape the house, and escape Josef’s influence on his life. 

“Embrace your inner wolf.”

Creep is absolutely riveting from the film’s opening scenes because the filmmakers knowingly, sadistically, and quite humorously push audience buttons about anti-social or inappropriate behaviors.  

Josef has no sense of personal privacy or modesty, and he keeps imposing his friendship on Aaron. At first, he pushes himself on Aaron with an inappropriate hug, immediately after meeting him.  But before long, he is naked in front of his new friend, revealing his secret shame over a pancake lunch, and telling weird, weird stories about animal porn and his wife, Angela.

We've all met a cat like this one. Someone who assumes trust, friendship, and acceptance just a bit too fast; just a bit too fully. This kind of person never seems to recognize personal barriers, or comfort levels.  Josef is that guy, blissfully blowing past invisible social barriers and decorum.

Mark Duplass is incredibly convincing here as a man who appears to have no sense of awareness that he may be coming off as strange, or even a little peculiar.  But the point is that, in the first act, Josef is inappropriate and weird, but not grievously threatening. We are alarmed by and amused by his actions, but not fearful.  

Not yet.

Yes, Josef overshares. Yes, his exercise pants are too tight.  Yes, the whole tubby experience is odd and immodest to say the least.  But at the same time that Josef is weird and off-putting, he is desperate and needy.  

He is dying, we believe, and wants to connect with Buddy, his unborn son.  He also wants to connect with Aaron, a new friend.  Josef’s philosophy in life seems to be that since he has so little time left on this Earth, he has no time for pleasantries, or the usual route of making friends.  He jumps right past introductions and assumes the right to hug, reveal secrets, and, importantly, make demands.

Given his (apparent) situation -- his cancer -- we can't entirely blame him for cutting to the chase, even though we quibble with his behavior.  There's a part of us that likes him, despite his weirdness. He seems to be living life to its fullest, because he knows he will soon be dead.

But then the movie pivots.  

Josef starts to grow more dangerous to Aaron, and -- after the phone call with Angela -- we start to fear him.  

But that fear has a companion.  There's a fascination we feel for Josef, and it's clear that Aaron feels it too. We want to see more of him.  We want to know what he is doing, and why he is doing it. 

He has “forced” himself -- a metaphor for emotional rape, perhaps? -- into our consciousness and he can’t be easily removed.  

Twice in the film, Aaron reports dreams in which he and Josef are together. In his dream, they sit side-by-side in a heart-shaped natural spring, wearing wolf masks. Then, Josef gives Aaron a “tubby,” treating him as a child.  But the water turns to blood.

And yes, this dream is prophetic, or at least a warning.  Consider, Aaron -- a "buddy" of Josef's -- is now metaphorically the son or child of Josef. That subordinate position is expressed in Aaron's dream because he is wearing the mask of a wolf child, and he is the one given a bath.  Like a parent, Josef controls Aaron's life. But the dream speaks of friendship (a duo together in a heart) as well as menace (water turned bloody). 

It’s not difficult to understand that Josef, for all his weirdness, is incredibly charismatic and that, somehow, Aaron has come to care for him, and what happens to him.  

Indeed, there’s no way to interpret or read the film’s climactic scene except to understand that Aaron is drawn to Josef despite all his reservations about him. Josef notes this himself, and says that Aaron is the best person who ever lived, and that he is his “favorite” of all his marks.  Why?  Because Aaron always believes that Josef is good.

Importantly, there are opportunities in the film for Aaron to break away completely from Josef, but he doesn’t pursue them as aggressively as he should.  In the end, he seems -- in some weird way -- to acquiesce to his fate; to the fate foretold by his dreams.

Creep is an intelligent and thoughtful film because it suggests, in its own subtle way, that Aaron may be the movie’s titular creep.  When he can’t find his car keys, he drugs Josef. He doesn’t try to negotiate; he doesn’t ask that Josef help him in a search.  He jumps right to the Benedryl.  That’s odd, isn't it?

Similarly, he makes a baffling decision, near the climax, to meet Josef at the lake, and without any real precautions in place. A video camera set to record, and a phone with 911 on speed dial are not ample defenses against a real person, and Josef must certainly be aware of this fact.

Are creeps drawn to creeps? 

I suppose that’s one possible interpretation of the film, and one possible reading of the complicated relationship between Josef and Aaron. Aaron certainly has ample reason to get away and distrust Josef early on, from a revelation at a restaurant that Aaron has photographed him without his knowledge, to his strange reveals about his wife, animal porn, and the Peach Fuzz mask as a sex toy.

One thing is for certain.  Once Aaron and Josef get into each other’s life, there’s no going back to the way things were.  Aaron may be a “professional” or experienced victim, and -- as we learn -- Josef is an expert liar, and a serial stalker.

So though Josef tells Aaron to embrace his inner wolf (perhaps in a way to save his life, even subconsciously…) the fact that is plain from the film is that Aaron possesses only an inner sheep. He is completely sucked in by Josef’s over-the-top, privacy-invading persona.  There's some part of him that wants to play his appointed role.

I’ve seen some reviews compare Creep to Fatal Attraction (1987), but the central relationship is different. In Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas’s character cheats on his wife (Ann Archer), and was in the relationship with Glenn Close’s nut-case psycho only for sex. In Creep, by comparison, Aaron -- comfortable in the role of victim, apparently -- lets Josef encroach further and further, until it is too late. Yes, he's alarmed by Josef's stalking (and videos...) and contacts the police for help.  But Josef's protests seem half-hearted and in the end, he fulfills his psychological purpose of "inner sheep" at the lake.

When Josef first meets Aaron in the film, he pays him a wad of cash for his services as a videographer.  He tells his new friend that their relationship is no longer a business transaction, but rather “a journey.” The amazing thing about Creep is that it posits complimentary journeys.  An inner wolf finds an inner sheep, and for one death is coming.

In bad found footage films, characters run around lost in the woods screaming at each other, tripping over demons that yank them around on wires.  

In good found footage films, like Creep, we get a close-up glimpse of madness, but also other human qualities.  The film’s final scene with Josef eulogizing Aaron is haunting, because, for the first time in 80 minutes or so, he is honest and upfront about who he is, and how he feels.  He takes off the mask, and reveals himself as the most human of monsters.

1 comment:

  1. Recently watched it and I really enjoyed it. Duplass gives a chilling performance in this psychological thriller and there's a few nice jump scares too!


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