We’ve all known someone who is very nice and friendly but who makes our every gut instinct scream at us to run away. We can’t explain it; the person has never done anything or said anything to hurt us. On the contrary, they often go out of their way to be friends. But something is off, wrong, even scary at times. However, we often just rationalize that feeling away. Because despite the horrors of the daily world, most of us still believe that the people we come into contact with are decent and follow a moral code. Could we deal with the reality that the smiling, ingratiating person we are currently alone with is actually dangerous, that we are walking further into danger every moment?
This is the premise of writer/director/actor Patrick Brice’s films CREEP (2014) and CREEP 2 (2017). He and co-writer/actor Mark Duplass have created two deceptively simple, yet highly disturbing films that demonstrate why independent horror deserves more attention and respect. Both films focus mainly on Duplass and one other person: Brice in the first film and Desiree Akhavan in the second. His ability to be awkwardly charming and menacing at the same time makes Duplass a great modern day Horror villain.
In CREEP, Brice plays Aaron, a videographer hired to make a video diary for Josef (Duplass), who claims to be dying of brain cancer and wants to leave something behind for his unborn son. As the movie progresses, we realize Josef is not who he presents himself to be. He repeatedly seems to be throwing Aaron off guard; in the beginning, jumping out at Aaron, who thinks he’s been stood up. He’s pushing the boundaries, crossing lines and then smiling and laughing, so that Aaron is unsure but goes along anyway. Josef even has a wolf mask and we realize this is an elaborate game of predator trapping prey.
What makes this movie so interesting, and Duplass such a great villain, is that this isn’t about a killer randomly attacking. Josef is smart, funny and likeable in an unnerving way. Some comparison can be drawn to Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO, but Josef seems to have some depth. He seems to be truly invested in the game. He has a plan, but mostly he just sets things in motion and improvises. This becomes more clear in the sequel.
I actually liked CREEP 2 more than the first one. When it was over, I watched the first one and then rewatched CREEP 2. The sequel explores Josef, now calling himself Aaron, more in depth. Again, we see Josef/Aaron playing his stalking game in the beginning with Dave (Karan Soni), and then with Sara (Akhavan). Something is off, however. Sara is not his usual prey and the two form a complicated relationship.
Sara is a young filmmaker who has a web series about online personal ads and the people who place them. She is looking for a truly bizarre experience but has been disappointed and is considering giving up. The movie is basically young disillusioned artist meets self-professed serial killer having an existential crisis. Sara answers Josef/Aaron’s ad and ends up finding exactly what she was searching for. Josef/Aaron tries his old tricks to scare or unnerve her, and she stays cool. He talks about how he has been a serial killer most of his life, viewed it as a religion, but now feels he has lost his life’s purpose. He wants to make a new film in which he passes the torch to an apprentice.
Sara doesn’t know what to make of all this, but decides to go along. What follows is a different type of game of two lies and a truth. Josef/Aaron begins to unravel, revealing details about himself and we the audience have to decide what is the truth. He also talks about events from the first film. It becomes unclear who is predator and who is prey. There is a scene where Josef/Aaron is submerged up to his nose in a hot tub and he is watching Sara walk out of the room. We see awe and fear in his eyes. It is also a purpose rekindled for both of them. Sara finally realizes the truth but she has no choice but to follow through. She is as drawn to him as he is to her.
CREEP and CREEP 2 are films to be watched several times. They are closely intertwined and there are easily missed details that pop up and add to the story. There is supposed to be a third installment which I am looking forward to. It is a testament to a great film when you actually look forward to sequels because you find yourself attached to a character, even a serial killer.