Mark Duplass’s latest outing, a co-production with director Patrick Brice, is a lo-fi, single concept film that expands the found-footage genre, hitting it from a unique angle and injecting a healthy dose of comedy into the mix.1 Creep marks a point of branching out for both Duplass and producer Jason Blum,2 with the former returning to the realm of experimental horror after a seven year hiatus,3 and the latter investing in some truly experimental content from a niche creative team. Unlike other Blumhouse acquisitions, Creep is not a surefire hit for the company – Mark Duplass is not a big name outside of the indie-cinema scene, and it’s unlikely that there’s a huge crossover between fans of his work and the broad output of Blumhouse Productions. Thankfully, it’s an investment that looks like it will pay off; with an extremely positive critical reception thus far and a strong push from Netflix’s marketing team, it looks like Creep will find a sizable audience. Luckily, the film is deserving of such a reception; it’s a hilarious, unsettling genre crossover that isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before, totally straying from the path laid by “mumble-gore” films that have come before it.
Likely the world’s first improvised horror film,4 Creep focuses on Aaron (Patrick Brice), a man who answers a Craigslist ad that seeks someone to film a day in the life of Josef (Mark Duplass) for $1000. As it turns out, Josef has a brain tumor, and wants to have video documentation of himself in his prime to leave to his son, before he starts to deteriorate. It’s a difficult film to talk about without spoiling too much, but suffice to say things get really weird, really fast, as Josef reveals himself to be socially awkward, uncomfortable and an oversharer who completely lacks self-awareness. Duplass absolutely nails his performance as the titular creep, and Brice isn’t too shabby as the straight-man in the relationship. However, the film isn’t content just to bank on two great performances; there are enough twists and turns in the “script” to keep you captivated right through to the formally brilliant finale. At its best – which, to be honest, is nearly the entirety of its runtime – Creep offers an overwhelmingly uncomfortable yet fairly amusing experience which consistently demonstrates that Brice and Duplass are fully aware of the constraints and virtues of the found-footage mode of filmmaking.
Creating a film that relies solely on social awkwardness as a form of true horror is an apt gimmick – it’s an area that has been explored recently in Honeymoon and The Invitation, but not to this extent and never this effectively. While the film is conceptually simple, Brice and Duplass extract a lot from their set-up, hitting their conceit from numerous unique angles, with the film never outstaying its welcome as new and effective ideas are explored as soon as the previous one begins to go stale. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Creep works so well – the entire mumblecore aesthetic shares a lot of features with the found-footage genre, and both clearly still wear their lo-fi, low-budget roots as a badge of honour. It’s in the employment of these shared features that Creep shines, with Duplass (in particular) flexing his improv chops in a different, yet strangely familiar context. In contrast, the film’s conformity to (some) horror tropes finds Creep at its weakest; whilst the film absolutely nails its jump scares, the post-ending/pre-credits scene designed to make way for sequels, for example, seems contrived and overwhelmingly forced. Without this sequence Creep would be a slightly stronger film, although its inclusion doesn’t really do much to degrade the feature’s overall quality, being only a somewhat minor departure in tone.
On a whole, Creep is a more than worthwhile genre exercise and a really fun viewing experience. Whilst its brief runtime and easy accessibility makes this an absolute must see for horror and mumblecore fans alike, there’s also a lot here for the uninitiated. It’s a shame that Creep missed out on a theatrical run,5 as, when compared with Insidious: Chapter 3, and the woeful The Gallows, it is the clear frontrunner of Blumhouse Productions’s three recent releases. Hopefully it will find its wide audience now that it’s streaming and on home video – it more than deserves one.
Creep is currently streaming globally on Netflix Instant.