Found footage has rapidly become one of the most played-out tricks in the horror playbook. What was once a daring experiment has become cliched and rote after having been run into the ground so many times.
Last year a small indie movie named Creep tried to do something a little more original with the format, hearkening back to the codifiers of the genre that kept audiences off-balance and unsure of what to expect. It didn’t entirely succeed, but at least it tried!
Our protagonist Aaron is a videographer who answers a craiglist ad promising $1000 for easy work: film a man for eight hours. Josef, the client, has a terminal brain tumour and he wants to create a video to leave for his unborn son after he’s dead. When Aaron arrives at the remote forest cabin that Josef has chosen for the shoot (red flag number one) it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something a bit… off about Josef. At first his behavior veers between comical and painfully awkward, but as the day wears on Aaron starts to suspect that Josef isn’t who he says he is, and that he’s summoned Aaron to this place for a very different purpose.
If you think you can guess the basic plot beats of Creep based on that description, you’re half right. Fifty percent of the movie plays out exactly according to genre conventions, but the final showdown comes far earlier than expected and the movie veers off in a surprising direction for the rest of its runtime. I’m not entirely sure this bold move works, as it drains most of the tension from the film, but it’s certainly interesting.
There’s a lot I admire about this movie, even if “interesting but doesn’t really work” ends up applying to the film as a whole along with some of its constituent parts. Josef’s portrayal is particularly strong: for the first half of the movie he’s weird enough to clue you in to the fact that there’s something seriously strange about the guy, but his behaviour isn’t so alarming that you start to wonder why Aaron hasn’t already skedaddled.
On the other hand there are a lot of small things that just don’t work very well. Aaron is sometimes shown to be much smarter and more savvy than your average horror movie protagonist (there’s a particularly fun twist on the “killer slips drugs into the hero’s drink” scenario) but the plot also calls on him to do several monumentally stupid things over the course of the movie, the worst of which is insisting he can’t leave because his car keys are missing even though he’s already well past the point where abandoning his vehicle should be the least of his priorities.
Another major let-down is the extent to which Creep mimics other found-footage movies by over-relying on jump scares. Large whacks of the movie consist of Aaron very slowly and quietly creeping around a location until something jumps out at/startles him. It doesn’t help that most of these are false scares and that the movie comes close to ending on a particularly stupid and pointless example. There is some genuinely unsettling and disturbing imagery here, but it’s like the movie lacks confidence in itself and feels the need to keep audiences amused with cheap thrills.
Overall Creep is a bright point in a genre that reached its peak a long time ago, but it’s never as good as it feels like it should be. The strong basic premise just isn’t executed well enough and lacks confidence in itself.