★★ / ★★★★
Aaron (Patrick Brice) answers an online ad that promises one thousand dollars for a day’s work. The job offers a vague description involving filming services where discretion is very much appreciated. Needing a bit of cash, Aaron drives up to a cabin in the mountains to meet with the client. His name is Josef (Mark Duplass) and he hopes to record his daily life for his unborn child. Josef claims to have been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and he has about two to three months to live.
Written by co-stars Brice and Duplass, “Creep” commands a familiar but nonetheless interesting premise that—at least for a while—is all at once highly curious, amusing, creepy, and entertaining. It is in the final third that the picture falters which involves a jump forward in time that singlehandedly eradicates the varying levels of tension and suspense that accumulated during the previous hour. It is a thriller that belongs under the faux-documentary sub-genre that almost hits the target perfectly.
For a story that consists of only two characters, it is immensely watchable. Credit goes to Duplass and Brice’s natural chemistry—one can easily believe that these two are good friends in real life. Because their rapport is seemingly effortless, the characters—even though they are strangers—have an instant rhythm about them that is so engaging that the dialogue sounds and feels real. Although it is not very smart to meet a total stranger in the wilderness, we are very curious how the meet is going to unfold.
Josef lives up to the picture’s title. Duplass plays the character with a sense of humor but it is almost always partnered with charm. This is key because even though it is possible that Josef is a pathological liar, it is left wide open that maybe there are truths in some of the things he says. He crafts so many detailed stories that we wonder if maybe—for once—he is telling the truth. In this way, we are in Aaron’s shoes—he feels uneasy about the stranger but he cannot help but wonder that perhaps there is a goodness about the man in front of him.
The screenplay plays with our expectations. It shows ominous images—like an axe or black plastic bags—that trigger a sense of alarm based on what we have seen or learned from other horror movies. However, unlike great films in the genre, this picture does not offer enough chills that go all the way. There is only tease; it is proficient in setting up and building momentum but it lacks powerful delivery—especially when it counts. One cannot help but suspect if Brice, who directed the film, truly knew how to helm a complete horror film. Still, perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the story is its plausibility—that what Aaron goes through can probably happen to just about anybody.
“Creep” has more than a handful of good ideas but it shortchanges the audience for not going all the way when it is time show us what we have come to see. Furthermore, I argue that the picture does not have a third act—problematic because it leaves us wanting more answers. The story may be complete but it is not fulfilling. But if it were meant to be incomplete, one could argue that each installment should be able to stand on its own.