Here’s a riddle for you: What do you get if a film’s most interesting character is also incredibly uncomfortable to watch? Answer: An intriguing, but ultimately heartless romp. So is the case for Creep, which will surely only be remembered for one part of its whole – Mark Duplass.
Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) plays Josef, a troubled soul supposedly struck with cancer who enlists the services of videographer Aaron (played by Patrick Brice, who also takes directorial duties) to document a day in his life as a parting gift to his unborn child. Duplass strikes an imposing figure on the film, both chilling and charismatic, not unlike his kooky turn in Safety Not Guaranteed, whilst also sharing similarities with Wolf Creek’s overly jovial and terrifying Mick Taylor (John Jarratt).
We meet him through the camera lens of Aaron, who apparently films himself 24/7; regardless of whether he’s actually working or not – as you do. Though we see glimpses of Aaron in the first half of the film we learn very little about the man behind the camera as his lens focuses almost entirely on the increasingly bizarre and fascinating antics of Josef, with us as the audience to his footage. His camera places us uncomfortably close to Josef, making the first half of the film in particular a genuinely disturbing character study of a man who clearly has a few screws loose. Aaron on the other hand suffers, playing a distant second fiddle. He’s clearly in danger, but a lack of investment in him, almost by design from the found footage style, leaves us detached from Aaron.
It’s when Aaron turns the camera on himself fully for the final 30 minutes of the film that his flaws as a character are truly exposed, and the lack of screen time for Josef is felt significantly derailing the film as it moves towards its climax. Director Patrick Brice is clearly better on the production side than the performance side, and his Aaron is bland as a result, both insignificant and considerably less smart in comparison to Josef. It’s exasperating to watch the film head off the rails as it does, as at its core there’s plenty to like, and the set up is strong.
Not that the first half is perfect by any means, with a smattering of cheap jump scares undercutting the dramatic tension well earned from Duplass’s mesmerising performance, but it’s that performance that keeps the film grounded even as it resorts to unnecessary tricks. It’s just a shame that Patrick Brice’s Aaron doesn’t keep up his end of the bargain. He’s a bit dim-witted frankly. Anyone introduced to Josef by witnessing his horrendous “tubby time” (the less said the better) would have been out of the door in a flash, instead it appears that Aaron’s a glutton for punishment. That’s a whole new level of dumb I can’t abide.
Incredibly unnerving, but very uneven, Creep shows plenty of potential, and certainly lives up to its title, but it somewhat scuppers its strong build up in the final 30 minutes; its issues exasperated by the all too short 82 minute run time.
Rating (out of 5):