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SXSW Review: "Creep"

Directed by Patrick Brice
Starring Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Comedy, Horror, Romance
82 Mins
United States

Mark Duplass has had quite a run in the fledgling stages of his career. From small roles in the likes of Oscar baity films, such as Zero Dark Thirty and, le sigh, Parkland, to larger roles in unsung indie hits Humpday and Safety Not Guaranteed, and simply as the reliably affable straight man, Pete, on The League, it's easy to admit that Duplass has got range. He dips his toes in the pools of all different genres and mediums, working as an accomplished dramatic actor and solid comedian to boot. It's then such a surprise that perhaps the greatest work he's done is in a found little footage horror movie called Creep.

Captured in what has become the oh so familiar first person POV framework, Patrick Brice takes on dual responsibility as the film's lead and director. He is our window into the events to unfold, a fluctuating moral guide through a stew of character grays. Brice is Aaron, a videographer gun-for-hire who responds to a mysterious Craigslist ad claiming it will take one day of his time and pay a cool grand. Up in the mountains, he meets a Joseph, a man with claims of imminent death, making a farewell video for his unborn son.

No matter how valiant his intentions sound on paper, Joseph (Duplass) is an unreliable character from the get go. From his startling first appearance to the unsavory wolf mask, ironically called Peach Fuzz, he keeps stuffed in his closet, he's a hard guy to get a read on. But that's half the fun. Throttling between waxing on his own mortality and jumping from behind a doorway to startle Patrick (and by extension us), one thing is for certain: Joseph's a weird dude. He's always quick on his toes to offer some soundbite explanation for his abnormal actions but his backstory is about as reliable and consistent as Heath Ledger's Joker.

Brice and Duplass love playing with the idea of the unreliable narrator as they fill the film with palpable moments of transitioning allegiances. There are times when Duplass feels like the titular creep, other times when it's Brice. There's even some fleeting moments where we turn the mirror on ourselves to see if we're the ones prescribing oddness to an otherwise savory and sweet situation. Could there actually be nothing wrong at all (save our unsavory expectations?) What am I talking about, this is a movie called Creep, of course some creeping is bound to go down. And go down it does.

When a film backs itself into a corner like Creep does about sixty minutes in, it usually becomes increasingly reliant on familiar tropes. The fringes of possibility become a picket fence and the audience is able to pick off the thread count like floating sheep. There are only so many ways to wrap things up in a horror movie and we usually know which of those endings will transpire when we've got about thirty minutes to go. But when Creep seems like its reaches the last track, it smartly changes things up, transforming from what may have dissolved into an unsatisfying slasher into a whole new type of paranoid tension machine.

From his backlit framing to the long, empty, awkward silences that fill the air like smog, Brice plants all the seeds of doubt required to make his audience want to stand up and shout "Don't go in there!" at the screen. Thankfully, his characters are rarely dumb enough to go the way of the slasher victim. It may not subvert the horror genre, but at least it doesn't sink down to its level. And though Brice does his fair share of leaning on genre mainstays to milk some frights, he remains true to his characters throughout and they're what made it interesting in the first place.


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