Creep 2 (2017)
★ / ★★★★
The original “Creep” may not be groundbreaking independent horror cinema, but at least the audience did not know what to expect. We wondered whether Aaron (Mark Duplass) really was a serial killer or just some lonely creep who decided to post an online ad in order to see who would bite. But in “Creep 2,” also directed by Patrick Brice, the novelty—and the mystery—has worn off. I found it to be nearly intolerable—not because it is not scary since the predecessor is not about scares but establishing an overall feeling of dread—precisely because it fails to offer anything new or exciting. Sure, the dialogue is stronger than the original but the script fails to move the material beyond what we already know about the murderer.
At least the picture begins with great promise. Desiree Akhavan plays Sara, an artist who is attempting to reach an audience for an online web series called “Encounters.” For her project, she answer online ads—especially those with strange requests like a man asking to be treated like an infant—with the hope of finding genuine connections and understanding a feeling we all have from time to time: loneliness. We get the impression that the character is smart, determined, and not easily scared by bizarre human longings and behavior. It establishes that she is a protagonist worth following because she might serve as an equal to Aaron’s sick games and psychotic behavior.
Funny confessions like Aaron claiming that he has lost his purpose for killing people because he is about to turn forty are present and often have bite. As in “Creep,” this work is further evidence that Duplass is perfect for the role; when he looks directly to camera and talks about murdering his victims as if he were reciting a recipe is chilling and effective. However, these amusing moments wear out their welcome because only minimal tension is gathered. It is a miscalculation, I think, for the screenplay to establish a sort of romantic connection between Aaron and Sara—even a one-sided attraction—because it softens our anticipation of bloody violence. And for long stretches nothing of great interest happens.
The more interesting avenue worth exploring is the question of whether we can or will choose to believe a person who has confessed to serial killing when this individual looks as normal as Average Joe: friendly, smiles a lot, and minds his own business. I thought the material would take off in an interesting direction when Sara is shown a video of Aaron, wearing a wolf mask, driving an ax into a stranger’s head in broad daylight. Sara has reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but the idea is never explored in such a way that makes us feel uncomfortable both in terms of content and for Sara’s safety. Instead, the material moves on to another instance when Aaron acts like a drama queen.
I found not one thing that is especially clever in “Creep 2.” Cringe-inducing moments are aplenty, but I demand more from a material with a wonderful potential to entertain and terrify. Although an average picture, “Creep” has laid the foundation quite successfully. So it is expected for the sequel to take off from that foundation and do something new or original. Instead, it seems content in rehashing old tricks with a slightly stronger script. More discerning viewers will readily see through its pretenses.
Overnight, The (2015)
★ / ★★★★
Having moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, a married couple, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), is worried that they will not be able to fit in and make new friends—crucial especially because they have a young son in need of playdates. While attending a birthday party at a public park, Alex and Emily are approached by Kurt (Jason Schwartzman)—married to Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) and has a son within the age range of an ideal playdate—who is personable, has a lot of recommendations about the area, and is kind enough to invite the former Seattleites for dinner. Alex and Emily accept, convinced that the opportunity is too good to pass up.
Written and directed by Patrick Brice, “The Overnight” is a try-hard pseudo-European, would-be dark comedy about marriage woes and male insecurity. I found it tawdry in appearance, sophomorically written, and unwilling to go all the way when it comes to the promise it makes once it has revealed the strangers’ true intentions. Although it is only about eighty minutes long, I felt it is much longer than a three-hour, complex, sophisticated, ambitious European erotic drama.
A lot of the so-called jokes here involve penile issues. It shows penis prosthetics several times from many angles and it is supposed to be funny or shocking, but it comes off very American—and by that I mean that the overall aura of the film is ashamed of showing nudity by showing fake nudity. Because the dangling plastic looks so ridiculous—insulting even because it is supposed to appear genuine—it is highly difficult to empathize with what the male characters are saying when they begin to open up about their insecurities. The disconnect between the false penis and real emotions is jarring—and insulting.
The movie offers nothing real or important to say about modern or progressive lifestyles. At one point, the possibility that Kurt and Charlotte being swingers is brought up. Instead of exploring Alex and Emily’s concerns, fears, or questions, the screenplay conveniently brushes this fascinating avenue under the rug. Instead, we get a tired, petty, repetitious, and very unconvincing argument between Alex and Emily.
Because the material shows that the two are unable to handle what is in front of them as a team, even in the slightest way, I did not at all believe that Alex and Emily is a real couple who has gone through a lot. More than halfway through, it becomes clear that they are caricatures who belong in a low-grade sitcom, not in a feature film. They are not worth our time and attention.
The performances are a bore, a slog to have to sit through. Scott tries too hard to make us feel that his character is an ordinary Joe with self-esteem issues. The problem is, he looks too tense; an ordinary Joe is more relaxed—especially with his appearance. Schilling has an annoying habit of giving out these crazy wide eyes as if she were on a comedy show signaling the audience to laugh. Scott and Schilling share no chemistry. Schwartzman, meanwhile, does his usual affected demeanor—nothing new or effective there. Godrèche is perhaps the most charming but her character has no dimension, no quality we can really hold onto and root for.
“The Overnight” is probably for thirty-something-year-old, sexually-repressed-but-in-denial-about-it parents who have no Internet or television and so they have a warped sense of what real thirty-something-year-old parents are like in the suburbs of modern America. There is nothing funny or interesting about it. Mr. Brice, what is your intention here? Please explain to me as if I had no advanced education because I felt that my time had been stolen.
★★ / ★★★★
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.