One of the most surprising, unsettling found footage films, Creep was virtually a two-hander for director Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass, who co-wrote and co-starred, and managed to be a scary (but also creepy) character study as well as a twisty mystery. It wasn’t an obvious candidate to be spun out into a franchise – and a trilogy, at least seems to be planned – but Blumhouse and Netflix have got behind a follow-up, and here it is.
The opening sequence is very cleverly a set-up for the new story and a swift re-introduction of the antagonist and his modus operandi. Hapless Dave (Karan Soni) is viewed in a fur-edged frame as he’s recorded from inside a baby wolf doll that is the latest weird, disturbing delivery to his house – he confides in his relatively recent new best friend (Mark Duplass), who calls himself Aaron, and the guy strings him along for a few moments before seeming to get tired of the cat-and-mouse imposture and exasperatedly asking Dave if he noticed that they only became friends just about the time the Lost Highway/Cache-style spy footage DVDs started showing up, and then slashes the idiot’s throat. Obviously, this latest ‘kill video’ has been a less satisfying experience for the eponymous creep – who is approaching forty, has a patchy beard and is frankly jaded with his spree as an unrecognised serial killer. So, he uses his old stratagem of trying to hire a videographer one last time – perhaps not looking for yet another victim, but for an actual biographer, or even an executioner.
Enter Sara (Desiree Akhavan), who appeals to him because his favourite song is an obscure track called ‘Sara Loves Her Juicy Fruit’, and who enters into a blatantly dodgy thousand-dollar-a-day gig because a typical episode of Encounters, the web series she has been making about her meetings with pathetic oddballs, has typically been racking up a total of nine views. So, weird and edgy as the creep seems, he’s likely to guarantee a more interesting exposé. As in Creep, two characters make a film – this footage, which will be found – with different reasons: the first time round, the creep, who called himself Josef, pretended to be dying and recording a tape for an unborn child but actually luring photographer Aaron (Brice) into starring in his own snuff video (which the creep now makes Sara watch while trying to convince her that he really is a serial killer). Here, the creep – who takes the name of a victim he respects, and doesn’t call himself after clueless Dave – has a new collection of neuroses, stratagems and mixed motives … and the film manages to delay the horrors by seriously entertaining the possibility that he wants to call it quits and become the star of a final snuff video (he even gives Sara his favourite axe and asks her to chop his head off) before he becomes intrigued by the duplicitous woman and sways between viewing her as a potential first girlfriend (he claims he’s never slept with a woman – but he also swears he’s never lied to her while using a blatantly false name) and possible serial killing partner or finding that she inspires him to take joy again in killing her.
Creep managed to string out its few possible outcomes to feature length before delivering its punchline, and this offers more varied twists but less suspense. It even makes a joke about jump scares as the creep keeps putting on his tatty werewolf mask (assuming the identity of ‘Peachfuzz’) and trying to surprise her with sudden leaps – though he’s actually scarier when believably rattled and off-guard, bungling a simple to-camera introduction on a disappointing location and stalking off ‘set’ at the first sign of Sara trying to direct him. Duplass throws himself completely into character, and may be delivering one of the signature horror roles of the era – the creep is an obvious self-deceiving, self-involved drama queen and loser, which distracts those in his orbit from how dangerous he is, and his moments of comic despair and unreasonable fury ring uncomfortably true. Monsters like this walk among us – and, indeed, have risen to positions of power and influence in the world – in a way that the likes of Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter or Jigsaw don’t. At once consumed by ego and insecurity, materially secure but emotionally arid, and terrifyingly petty, the creep is never going to have an action figure – but Duplass and Brice do awards-quality work in creating the character.
Akhavan’s Sara is inevitably overshadowed, but does turn out to be a weirder, stranger scene partner for Duplass than Old Aaron. Given recent Hollywood scandals, there’s a disturbing charge to the initial confrontation in which the creep decides to break the ice by showing himself completely naked to Sara – who is appalled, but realises that ‘dick in my face’ is a signifier of exploitable lunatic content (though she tucks a stanley knife in her sock just in case). When she strips off to match him, she gives him the camera and asks if he has a decent shot – and he embarrassedly zooms in on her face to keep her nakedness below frame. A tag hints at a direction the in-the-works Creep 3 might take. If it builds on this as cannily as this does on Creep, Brice and Duplass might have signed off on a major genre trilogy.