WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
There’s a lot of found footage horror out there and arguably we’re all a little tired of it.
Except me, I am not tired of it at all.
A lot of people whine that new found footage is just trying to be the next BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). And of course no found footage film has ever been as effectively terrifying again, since people literally believed it was real that first time. Recreating that experience is impossible in our current age of internet-literate three-year-olds and seventeen PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies. But I think found footage has a lot of advantages for horror: it allows fewer special effects, lower budgets, and smaller casts while lending a feeling of gritty reality that can be truly unsettle. The CREEP movies, directed by Patrick Brice, are super successful at making use of the technique.
Both CREEP (2014) and CREEP 2 (2017) are tightly written/edited and impressively well-acted. The titular creep (Mark Duplass) brings an unnerving vulnerability to his life as a serial killer. He seems to genuinely like and even love his victims (there’s some intriguing discussion of this in CREEP 2). This makes his murdering them really freaky and delightful. It also inherently makes CREEP the better of the two movies.
I need to back up now for a moment to say: I never thought this day would come. CREEP has zero female characters (unless you count an offscreen sister/wife) while CREEP 2 has the truly delightful Desiree Akhavan as Sara. This means that CREEP breaks one of my cardinal horror rules (#6). It’s a bit more excusable when there are so few characters overall, but I’m still ambivalent on the gender front. Moving on!
I loved watching Akhavan and I think CREEP 2 is a respectable sequel. But CREEP is the better film because it makes the best use of found footage. (NYT thinks CREEP 2 is better, but I am prepared to fight to the death on this point. Also Mark Duplass, star and co-writer, agrees with me.).
Even if you’ve seen a found footage film (or ten) before, CREEP is incredibly unnerving. If Joseph (Duplass) never killed anybody it would still be terrifying. From the moment Aaron (Brice) arrives at this job, Joseph is doing the kind of weird shit that makes me not want to meet up with Craigslist strangers when I’m buying a “new” bookshelf. He seems almost like a harmless eccentric even when he’s doing really nutty things like sitting nude in the bath with an imaginary child or “gifting” Aaron with near-death experiences in the woods (for which Aaron thanks. him.). It’s alarming how plausible it is that Aaron would forgive all the strangeness because of 1) the $1000 pay and 2) how oddly warm and kind Joseph is throughout his psychological torture.
The movie jumps around in time/location a bit during the second half, which does drain some of the tension. But when the camera turns and we see that Joseph is the one behind it for the first time, that tension rockets back up. Changing the audience’s POV in the middle of the movie is fucking terrifying. The final horrifying scene is filmed from a distance by a stationary un-manned camera. It makes incredible use of the form. We in the audience are powerless. Aaron never turns around while Joseph advances on him with an ax. The scene happens in total silence which is way scarier than a creepy score. Every twist in this movie is a surprise that takes advantage of the found footage to tell us something new and upsetting about the world we live in. It’s not a fantasy. That guy is probably your next-door neighbor.
By comparison, CREEP 2 gives a lot away early. Even if you didn’t watch CREEP you know in the first 5 minutes that Joseph (now named Aaron, upsettingly) is a serial killer because he does an onscreen murder. That means the movie is ultimately a lot more about Aaron’s emotions and relationship with Sara. The question is not “is this guy a killer?” It’s “will Sara figure out the truth in time to escape from this killer?” Not a bad question but not as tense as the original. It ends up being a bit more like an indie episode of Dexter than I would personally like.
CREEP 2 keeps a greater unity of time and place than CREEP which helps with the tension, but we also spend a surprising amount of time just listening to the characters talk about their feelings. Aaron talks about being a serial killer a lot which weirdly makes him seem less threatening. Akhavan is an incredible actor. There are two scenes where she does a whole range of emotions with just her face and it’s fantastic. It’s rare to be emotionally invested in a horror character the way I was with Sara. Definitely a hallmark of good movie-making. But I ultimately wasn’t as scared since I knew exactly what was coming the whole time. The movie doesn’t succeed at surprise (at lest not for this avid horror-viewer) and surprise is a central ingredient in fear.
I strongly recommend both of these movies.
But definitely watch CREEP first.