Netflix Pick of the Week: Creep

I’ve said I dislike found footage movies, but it’s because they usually suck for reasons having little to do with the way they’re shot. Against all odds, I kind of want to see M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s going to suck. Found footage is a young director’s game and Shyamalan’s over that particular hill.

Creep, despite a run-of-the-mill trailer, doesn’t suck. It’s a simple movie, which involves a house, a sympathetic protagonist, and a creep of epic proportions. There’s also an ax and a werewolf mask at play, insisting from the get-go we probably won’t get a happy ending.

I’m not very familiar with Mark Duplass, who plays the titular creep, but great character actors are good at embracing the qualities which separate them from genetically blessed movie stars. Duplass looks so much like a real-life creep you wonder if he was born to play the role. It’s a lot of fun watching him enjoy a character who’s anything but glamorous.

The setup? Aaron (played by director Patrick Brice) answers a Craigslist ad placed by Josef, the creep. Josef says doctors have given him three months to live so he wants to shoot a video diary about himself. That way, his unborn son can see what he was like. Josef confesses he was inspired by the schlocky melodrama My Life, which starred Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman. Aaron’s job is to follow Josef and film him going about his daily routine.

The first thing Josef wants to do is have Aaron shoot video of him taking a bath. Reluctantly, Aaron agrees. Whereas most horror films make their characters too stupid or incompetent to get themselves out of a dangerous situation (because otherwise, the movie would be over then), Aaron’s cast from a different mold.

There’s a lot of people who think just about anyone would have high-tailed it as soon as they found themselves in Aaron’s situation. Yet we all know people who are just too damn polite to say no to overbearing strangers with sob stories. Aaron is the kind of person who would probably loan his deadbeat brother money even when he knows that money isn’t actually going towards rent. Because of this, Aaron’s the kind of character who makes you want to scream at the screen, but not because he’s stupid (although you could make that argument), but because he’s buying into Josef’s manipulative personality. That and it’s also suggested he kind of needs the money.

Josef’s antics, however, quickly escalate to the point even Aaron has had enough. To say anymore would give away more than the trailer does. The film’s strength, other than its diabolical simplicity and surprisingly strong performances, is the fact you never quite know what kind of movie it is, where it’s going, or how Josef and Aaron’s qausi-friendship is going to develop. If you’re expecting a slasher film, you’ll probably be disappointed.

I will say I didn’t completely buy the ending and there’s a little scene following the climax which attempts to put a lampshade on the absurdity of one crucial detail. It’s as if they only realized the problem after they shot it, and instead of reshooting the scene, they decided to offer a weak explanation for why it went down the way it did. That doesn’t really matter. Movies like this rarely have good endings (see my previous pick, 13 Sins), but Creep brings the goods for the first two-thirds of the movie just the same.

You get the feeling Brice and Duplass are two actor friends who had an idea for a movie over drinks one night and decided to shoot it with little more than a vague outline. There’s an energy to it that’s charming. It’s made all the more impressive when you take into consideration that a movie born of such simple seeds has no right to be as watchable as it is. If there’s any justice, both of these filmmakers will move up another rung of the Hollywood ladder.

Netflix Pick: 13 Sins (2014)

Now this is my kind of movie… at least until it all falls apart. The more out there a concept, the harder it is to wrap it all up, so 13 Sins gets a pass. It’s all about the journey, not the lackluster destination. 

13 Sins is what Phone Booth could have been had it been made by a better director. Phone Booth was more of a thriller; its visual style and mood was the epitome of what I disliked about the 2000s, my least favorite era of film. 13 Sins has a lot more horror elements (blood, desecration of bodies, and Pruit Taylor Vince, the wonderfully odd-looking character actor from Jacob’s Ladder). It’s also more proof that horror is probably coming out of the depressing rut it’s been in with ad nauseam Saw sequels and found footage.

Elliot (Mark Webber) is a thirty-two year old loser who doesn’t even have the guts to tell his boss to go to hell when fired for bogus reasons. He’s got a mentally handicapped brother, a pregnant fiance, and a rancorous father who was driving the car that killed Elliot’s mother. You’ll probably roll your eyes at these obvious setups, believing you know exactly how the movie will employ them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be wrong. Early on this film is a master at misdirection. (Later on, you’ll probably figure out the bigger reveals, but that’s okay.)

13 Sins doesn’t pussyfoot around even though the main character does. Soon after losing his job, Elliot gets a phone call from a stranger. Kill the fly in his car, the stranger says, and Elliot will be a grand richer. Elliot humors the tinny voice and checks his bank account. Sure enough, a thousand bucks have been deposited. The second challenge is to swallow the fly, which is worth more money. I won’t tell you what the other challenges are, but they only become more and more bizarre. By challenge #4, the cops are already on Elliot’s trail. 

This is not a slow movie.

By then, Elliot is beginning to have some fun. Whereas he used to be a quiet, timid man, he’s learning to enjoy making waves. After smooth-talking his way out of a run-in with the cops, we see him smile. And we smile, too. We’ll be damned if we don’t feel like we’re with him every step of the way, rooting for him even when the challenges get progressively weirder, including a challenge that seems ripped right out of Weekend at Bernie’s.

This isn’t to say the execution is flawless. The film seems to want to say something about human nature and greed, but the message bounces all over the place; perhaps it wants to say too much for its hour and a half running time. The tone seems to fluctuate throughout, peaking when it’s humorously dark and bottoming out when its main character actually shows some humanity. The ending artificially wraps up the escalating complications with a neat little bow. It’s like a fun roller coaster ride that ends unexpectedly and anticlimactically. Oh well, it’s still better than any Saw film ever.

I hope 13 Sins is part of a renaissance in horror. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more films like this and It Follows to wash the out the joyless aftertaste of the 2000s and that era’s over-produced Resident Evils and Underworlds.