In Creep, a found footage two-hander starring mumblecore innovator Mark Duplass (Baghead, Cyrus, FX’s The League) and Patrick Brice (director of this year’s much-ballyhooed The Overnight), the trope of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is made almost hilariously literal. The titular creep isn’t a mustachioed guy in a windowless van, but rather the guy who won’t stop talking to you on the subway. We’re talking the kind of guy who conveys sensitivity and cuddliness in ways that can’t help but feel calculated, a mask for something malevolent or, even worse, sociopathic. Oh, and sometimes he wears a terrifying wolf mask.
Creep begins with Aaron (Brice), a freelance videographer on his way to a gig. His new employer, Joseph (Duplass), claims to have terminal cancer, and wants Aaron to film a video diary for Joseph’s unborn son to watch after he’s gone. Things get weird pretty quick, as Joseph’s queasily specific rituals and practical jokes reek of equal parts loneliness and instability. It’s enough to make Aaron want to hightail it out of there, but nothing’s that easy, especially the events that unfold in the aftermath of the job.
Without Duplass, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. The story is threadbare, the direction only fitfully inspired, and Brice, a writer and director by trade, isn’t much of an actor. But Duplass has always had a sneaky kind of star power, a breezy charisma he can mold to fit the tone of whatever project he’s supporting. Here, he finds new shades of that daffy charm by drowning it in desperate sincerity. The kind of horror you’ll find in the film’s first half is that of being alone with someone who needs you so much more than you need them, and having to comfort someone you neither care for nor understand. It’s uncomfortable and, in stretches, deeply disturbing.
That’s just the first half, however. Creep begins to hit more traditional notes in its final stretch, when the found footage concept also begins to strain credibility. Luckily, the film keeps a brisk pace and builds to a climax that’s one of the most simple and chilling I’ve seen all year. Unfortunately, the film barrels on for a few more minutes afterwards, providing an explanation for the found footage concept as it connects dots that would have been better left to the viewer’s imagination.
Still, Creep is an effective thriller, and a fine showcase for the developing talents of Duplass, who hasn’t let his foray into the mainstream affect his growth as an artist. The simple fact that, with all of his success, he still pushes tiny projects like these is proof that he may be independent film’s most valuable asset.