In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. In previous iterations we lauded found footage indie Frazier Park Recut and fired Netflix’s The Babysitter. This time, we’re videotaping Mark Duplass for 8 hours. Spoilers ahead!
Synopsis: “Aaron (Patrick Brice) answers an online ad and drives to a stranger’s house to film him for the day. The man, Josef (Mark Duplass), wants to make a movie for his unborn child, but his requests become more bizarre as the day goes along.”
I wonder if this will be the first time that we have wildly divergent views on a film — I’ve shown this movie to a few different people with mixed results. Overall, I really like this film. A lot of my fond feelings are due to the charisma and unpredictability of Mark Duplass’ performance as Josef, the bizarre and often terrifying antagonist with the yen for pushing boundaries.
The boundary-pushing is an aspect that I specifically want to focus on, actually — in many ways, Creep feels sort of like a brilliant, subversive analogue to the romantic comedy genre (albeit one that is exaggerated and decidedly more overtly sinister). Josef’s pursuit of Aaron includes actions and tokens commonly accepted as signifiers of romantic (or erotic) intent — he plies him with alcohol, begs him to spend the night, sends him a stuffed animal and a locket, takes surreptitious photos of him, carves their initials into a rock, and shows up uninvited to his home. In a romantic comedy, these behaviours between two people of very limited acquaintance would be read as cute or heartwarming. In Creep, they’re rightfully read as red flags.
When Aaron rejects these advances, Josef begins gaslighting him and making it seem as though Aaron is the one who is wronging him. In romantic comedies, that’s how we’re meant to feel about the (most frequently) woman who just won’t give that Nice Guy a chance. The overbearing, obsessive, and often inappropriate character is the one we’re meant to root for, in the name of love. Conditioning people to read boundary-pushing as romantic is dangerous, since abusers routinely come on strong and fast. In this sense, I think that Creep is a lot closer to reality than many romantic comedies.
When Aaron does, at the end, agree to meet with Josef one final time, it does NOT go well for him. It’s a vital lesson to trust your gut and, in the words of Karen and Georgia from the My Favourite Murder podcast, “fuck politeness”. What are your overall thoughts on the film, Joe? And do you think I’m way off-base with my romantic comedy rant?
It’s hilarious that you bring up our shared affection for My Favourite Murder because I literally spent most of Creep repeating that very line to myself, wondering why Aaron didn’t trust his instincts and get the f*ck out of there each time he came across a red flag.
You’re right on two accounts: 1) your reading of the film as a twisted horror/thriller take on romantic comedies is spot on and 2) this is the first film we have differing opinions on.
I should clarify that I don’t dislike Creep, but I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed it (I think I admire it more than anything). One reason I struggled with it is that the film is all tease, with only a slight payoff. If you take Creep at face value as a thriller, it’s clear that there’s something off about Josef from the very beginning. There’s never a question of whether something nefarious is going on; the only question is to what extent he is a danger to Aaron. As a result I spent the majority of the film waiting for the axe to fall – it was just a matter of when, not if.
I’ll also confess that part of me dreaded the idea that Josef was a sexual predator who was going to assault Aaron (ironically this is a more rudimentary, simplified version of your argument). There’s undeniably a queer interpretation to be made of Duplass’ performance of Josef, not the least of which is inviting a stranger to watch you undress and take a bath immediately after meeting them.
What I liked most about Creep was the constant reevaluation of how dangerous Josef is, particularly the repeated cues that he’s not being truthful (the house, which contains no women’s clothing, clearly isn’t his; he doesn’t know the diner menu or a direct path to the heart rock, etc). I was legitimately curious about where the film was headed once the pair face off after Aaron receives the call from Angela. Unfortunately the constant threat of violence only a few concrete payoffs (Josef standing at the front door, the late night walk down the side lane of the house) left me wanting. I will confess, however, that the final scene in the park is perfectly executed.
I’m curious, V, would you classify Josef as a queer villain? (A screencap of his victims’ names suggest ⅔ men, with an odd focus on swimmers) What do you make of the Angela phone call, which for me is the biggest unexplained element of the film? Why isn’t she more specific? And finally, what do you think we’ll see in the sequel?
Would I classify Josef as a queer villain? Yeah, I think I would. I hadn’t noticed the ratio of male to female names at the end, but his attachment to Aaron is definitely significant. I’m not sure why Angela wasn’t more specific during the phone call — the scene made for a great, thrilling moment in the film, but the execution left a lot to be desired.
Speaking of execution, you make some good points about the effectiveness of Creep as a horror film. I guess that I think of Creep as less of a thriller and more of a lesson/statement about social conditioning and how it can interfere with our own best interests and safety. I appreciate that the film encourages us to constantly reevaluate how dangerous Josef really is, because it reminded me of the reality of living life in the world as a someone other than a straight, cisgender, white dude. There are so many cues that you need to pay attention to, especially with people you’ve only just met. Always giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially in the face of so many red flags, doesn’t make you a better person. If you’re not careful, it can make you a dead person. The film is effective in illustrating that message, for sure, but maybe it doesn’t hit the mark as a truly viable thriller.
What do I expect from the sequel? I’m going to be honest — I haven’t given it much thought at all, because I want to be completely surprised. I’m looking forward to seeing what Creep 2 brings! As for the O.G. Creep, I’d give it a 7 out of 10. I actually have a higher opinion of it now after having this conversation with you and articulating my thoughts. What about you?
I’m with you 100% about the film’s status as a cautionary tale about trusting strangers. You can hold back a little without being rude, especially if the alternative is winding up as a name in Josef’s video collection.
Despite some reservations, I probably come in just a touch lower than you with a 6/10. If anything, our discussion has made me appreciate Creep even more. It’s definitely the kind of film that benefits from a deeper, more sustained analysis, which I’ll confess isn’t something I thought I would say when the credits first rolled.
As for sequel talk, I’m intrigued to see if our issue with Angela is addressed when Creep 2 drops on Netflix next week. We’ll just have to wait and see!
Want more snark and criticism?
- Follow Valeska @bitchcraftTO and check out her kickass female-run, queer-positive horror and lifestyle site Anatomy of a Scream
- Follow Joe @bstolemyremote and be sure to join the Bstolemyremote FB group for daily TV and film updates
Creep is available on Netflix. Creep 2 will be available Saturday, Dec 23.