Review: CREEP 2

Creep 2 and the Misrepresentation of Horror

“Am I a sociopathic pathological liar who is completely disconnected from the world and people? Yes. Am I majorly having a great time with you because I get to be me around you? Yes.”

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Initially, when I sat down to collect my thoughts after watching Creep 2, I was trying to decide on what angle I could view the film from.

“Ok,” I pondered, “What about found footage?” Hey, I am an unabashed found footage apologist. I think that while a glut of films flooded the market post-Paranormal Activity (or the initial boom of The Blair Witch Project), when found footage is done right it can elevate a mediocre concept to never before seen heights. Take the all but forgotten film Nightlight from 2015 (currently streaming...somewhere). The basic premise is simple: a group of friends decide to play flashlight tag in the middle of the night in a forest that is known for attracting young people contemplating suicide. Then, of course, inevitably the teens start to get picked off one by one by an unforeseen force.

We’ve all seen a version of that right? Totally.

But what made the film actually kind of fascinating was how they played the common critique of found footage movies: why are they still filming?

Well, they are still filming because they actually aren’t filming at all. Our point of view is that of the flashlight. Which, as I type that sentence, sounds pretty laughable. But by completely divorcing the audience from what our expectations are, we are given a wholly new visual experience. And it works, for the most part! But what it does is make an otherwise forgettable story memorable.

Then I thought: “Oh! No! I can just save my found footage love fest for later and focus on what this movie really is! A great entry in the small but mighty serial killer “mockumentary” film it’s own sub-genre that has a far greater reach in cinematic history than mere “found footage.” While Ruggero Deodato introduced us to the form, and UFO Abduction (or Incident in Lake County depending on who you talk to) and 84C MoPic took it to a modern independent level, it wasn’t until 1993’s Man Bites Dog that the world was ready to accept a documentary-style horror film. Audiences were craving a deeper understanding of a brutal murderers psyche, especially in a world still reeling from the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez. This opened the door for the criminally underrated The Last Horror Movie, and the best film to point to as a shining example of the subgenre working: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It’s an underrepresented subgenre AND I can talk about found footage!? Match. Made. In. Heaven.

That was until my fiancee sent me an article from Vulture titled “Patrick Brice on Why Creep 2 Isn’t Actually a Horror Movie”. So, I mean, I guess I’m angling with that now.

When Creep was initially released to rather quiet fanfare, I sought the movie out as a curiosity that popped up on Netflix more than anything. I think there is a lot of thoughtful and inventive ideas that can come from the mumblecore (or mumblegore in this case) movement that the Duplass Brothers have helped ignite and cultivate. Also, as an actor, I like Mark Duplass. I think his work in The League and The Mindy Project are hilarious, and while we can partially blame Duplass for the cinematic mistake that is Colin Trevorrow, his work in The One I Love is next level (Authors Note: see. this. film. It’s amazing and definitely horror-adjacent). So when Creep dropped—practically a one-hander written by Duplass and filmed by Patrick Brice, a director with more interest in documentary filmmaking (paralleling the early intentions of the late Master of Horror Wes Craven) than genre narrative—I was intrigued. And you know what? The film works for the most part. It’s tight, it’s brief, it has nothing to say and everything to say like any good indie film, and most importantly it surprised me. What surprised me more was the fandom that Creep sparked. People really connected with Brice and Duplass’ film and, eventually, Netflix approached them with a sequel. And within the first five minutes of Creep 2, I was already more effusive about the film than the original.

Which is what makes the above Vulture article disheartening, but we’ll get back to that.

From the beginning moments of Creep 2, we know we will not be having the same relationship with Josef, now named Aaron. The devilish charm of Duplass, which we saw glimpses of in the first film, is on full display from the get-go. A wink at the camera is as much for him as it is for us as we realize this is Aaron’s movie from the start, even if we are seeing it from the “eyes” of another. In Creep it was the director himself, Patrick Brice, playing the audience surrogate. This time it is Iranian American actress Desiree Akhavan as Sara, a documentary journalist that created a web series called “Encounters” where she answers strange Craigslists ads to document the strange and weird true-life tales of the United States. Frankly, it’s a knockout of an idea for a television series. But “Encounters” isn’t turning out to be what Sara had initially imagined, until she sees Aaron’s craigslist post, a similar cryptic message with good pay for a videographer who doesn’t scare easy. Sara takes the bait and tumbles into the world of Aaron.

Aaron, like Josef before him, lives in a remote cabin in the middle of the woods (the cabin is so nice I really want to know what Josef/Aaron does for his day job when he’s not friendship-murdering his nearest and dearest). But unlike the off-putting cautious behavior of Josef, Aaron is a more aligned with the age of Aquarius. We meet him making a green smoothie, his hair pulled back in an almost man-bun, a full beard, and just a pair of birkenstocks away from being the spitting image of an Austin Texas gentrifier. So hey! Sara has nothing to worry about, right?

You can probably guess the answer to that.

Through a series of loosely threaded together scenes that give us emotional depth to Aaron/Josef and the machinations of a serial killer, we are given a very stark portrayal of an adult who is trapped in a time capsule of adolescence. He has more in common with the attention-seeking of an angry toddler than the easily-maligned millennial generation. And while his behavior is childish and childlike, it is also deeply sexual. Aaron’s youthful vigor is in direct contrast to his inner wolf, kept at bay merely on a surface level. When he is upset, he throws a tantrum that would be harmless for a 7-year-old but, when it is in the body of a 39-year-old man, it becomes deeply unnerving. In a lot of ways he epitomizes the stereotype of an angsty adolescent. He’s creative, thoughtful and deeply confused with the rage and hormones he expresses; to wanting to die like Romeo and Juliet, or utilizing male sensitivity as a weapon for sexuality. If anyone ever blogged on LiveJournal back in the early 2000s, you may recognize (or even identify) with a lot of Aaron’s story and struggle. There were so many moments in the film where all I kept saying to myself was, “Oh god he was probably the worst in high school!”, but deep down weren’t we all the worst (I’m looking at you Buckling Your Belt On Your Side Hip fashion trend!)?

This multilayering of Aaron is helped in no small part by once again another fantastic turn by Duplass. He has a great gift for turning hilarity into sinister at the turn of a dime, and his interactions with Sara are richer than the prior release. Because Brice operates the camera more often in this than the character Sara does, he gives more time for the relationship between her and Aaron to blossom. The stark monologue from Creep has sprouted into a quiet dialogue in Creep 2. And while Akhavan plays the role of the person behind the camera, Brice makes sure that the “camera” isn’t a hindrance to the development of these two and Akhavan excels fantastically.

Plus, again, I’d be neglectful to not point out the fantastic casting decision of Akhavan. Genre films continue to kick modern ass, fighting the good fight for gender and racial equality in our industry by casting an Iranian-American actress in the lead role. This could have gone to another cookie cutter standard white female lead, but it didn’t. And until this becomes a rote practice, it deserves applause each time.

And while I’m on the #WOKEAF praise train, I need to touch on a very impactful decision regarding nudity in his film. Very, very small spoiler warning so if you want to go in completely blind, you can skip to the next paragraph.

In a film called Creep, we’re anticipating the first “creepy” moment. For this film, it happens quite early once Sara first arrives at Aaron’s cabin. He feels that to truly connect with her; as she is the videographer documenting a very important aspect of his life, he wants to break down the wall and gender divide between the two of them to unearth his true Id, warts and all. The only way for him to do this is to strip naked in front of her because to him a man and a woman will always have that lingering question when working together: “What does the other person look like nude?” SUPER creepy and invasive, especially in light of the stories regarding Harvey Weinstein and more powerful men in Hollywood, but Sara knows she leaped into the deep end and is willing to go where the story needs to go. So she strips nude, too. Now once the initial shock and disgust of the idea of the scene wears off, it clicks that something very interesting is happening. When Aaron revealed himself, the camera stayed focused on his entire body. I didn’t take the time, but I’d say it’s roughly a good thirty full seconds of full frontal dong action. If you’ve ever been curious, there is your answer. When Sara decides to strip nude and Aaron is behind the camera, as each layer of clothing is removed, the camera focuses closer and closer on to her face with only brief glimpses of her own nudity. It feels like Aaron so desperately wants that disgusted reaction from Sara, but she denies him. Or maybe he was just being respectful of her body. The jury is still out for me what Brice’s intentions were behind this scene and the camera movement in the context of the narrative, but I knew that what I was watching was deliberate and refreshing.

But back to this Vulture article really quickly.

You may have noticed but I’ve used a lot of classifying words in the above. Classification systems for literature were created by Plato and altered through time to encompass multitudes of genres. These socially agreed upon conventions are really just audience created expectations. If you pick up a book of short stories by HP Lovecraft, you know you won’t be getting a Neil Simon-esque romp. But as we become more intellectually inventive and daring with our preconceived notion of story and structure, the lines between genres are merging and meshing now more than ever. And in today’s heightened state of public fears both domestic and abroad, no more genre is becoming lost in the shuffle than the horror film. For decades now, studios and artists have tried to slowly strip horror of that moniker, trying to repackage and repurpose the genre into more digestible terms for wide audiences. Coming up with new ways to hide a horror film feels like a party game.

“Ok, we can’t use horror...what else do we got?”
“Thriller!”
“Oooh! How about psychological thriller, it’s even got psycho in the name?!”
“No, no. I got it. How about...Drama/Thriller.”
“I can top that! DARK CRIME DRAMA!”

“Oooooo!”

No other genre gets its identity ripped away from it faster than a horror movie that general audiences connect with. This year alone with the releases of IT about a child-eating clown and Annabelle: Creation, about a possessed demon doll, both had think pieces dissecting and dismantling the concept of a horror film, attempting to shoehorn them into a very specific and massively vague box. And frankly, I’m not here to plant my flag in the sand and make a grand gesture on behalf of the horror genre. We see through the thinly-veiled attacks on our genre that are repurposed as editorials trying to make buzzwords like "post-horror" or "Nu-horror" happen, and it’s just extremely dispiriting to see a director that made an intelligent horror film turn his back on the word. If only through righteous indignation alone, the fans of the genre will not let anyone forget when something is or isn’t a horror movie (guess what! Most movies are horror-adjacent!). I just hope that more creatives will start to understand and embrace the level of complexity a horror film can give a narrative that is unlike any other genre.

Over the next four years, horror is set to be the most important and necessary way to discuss societal issues through the vacuum of something else. So please, don’t be afraid to call it by its name.