Filmmakers Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice insist their movie Creep (review) isn’t a horror film and they are not horror filmmakers, but I beg to differ. It’s one of the scariest, and dare I say “creepiest,” movies I have seen in quite some time.
Here’s the plot rundown: Looking for work, Aaron (Patrick Brice, who also directs) comes across a cryptic online ad: “$1,000 for the day. Filming service. Discretion is appreciated.” Low on cash and full of naiveté, he decides to go for it. He drives to a cabin in a remote mountain town, where he meets Josef (Mark Duplass), his cinematic subject for the day. Josef is sincere and the project seems heartfelt, so Aaron begins to film. But as the day goes on, it becomes clear that Josef is not who he says, and his intentions are not at all pure.
We got the opportunity to go to the hallowed halls of Blumhouse Productions for a sit-down interview with Mark and Patrick; here’s what they had to tell us about Creep.
Dread Central: I saw the movie a few months back, but it’s still so fresh in my memory. And that’s really rare these days with not just all film, but horror films in particular. I’m wondering, both of you, if you would explain what made you grasp onto such a gripping scenario?
Mark Duplass: It was really an arts and crafts project before it was a film. It was us sitting in my living room as just friends talking about people, and how we just kind of love odd behavior. And talking about some misadventures we have had on Craigslist and how you just sense someone is a little off. It’s that personal space thing, how it can be strange. We just have a love for those kinds of people and so we thought about, what if we just tried to cobble together a kind of two-hander [a movie with only two actors]. I was interested in putting away all form of a traditional crew and getting back what it felt like as a kid and making movies with a hand-held camera. That, and we just got along really well. So, we went up to the cabin where we shot the movie and we stayed there for… [to Patrick] was it two nights, or one night?
Patrick Brice: I think two nights.
MD: We hammered out a five-page outline and then we set aside a week to shoot the original version of the film, which was a very different movie than what you saw. Maybe about a half of that version made it to the finished film. And then, what happened from there is, over a next year to year and a half we continually kept re-shooting scenes, showing them to our friends, seeing what was working and in many ways, what most people do with the writing process, where they discover what the story is, and so on. We were doing it within the shooting process, and it was really frustrating at times and hard, to get a lot of criticism, but eventually the movie started taking shape. It was this big collaborative effort, and then when we brought in Blumhouse, [they] also helped it to take shape. I think because of that the movie just came out as a more unique version of a horror movie because we’re just not horror filmmakers and we don’t really know what we are doing. We just start figuring it out in our own way.
DC: But you are storytellers, and that’s the important thing no matter what the genre is.
PB: Yeah, we didn’t set out to make a horror film by any means. I think the things that we were focusing on or what intrigued us about this movie are the relationships and the dynamics.
MD: Yeah, we thought it was going to be an uncomfortable My Dinner with Andre, and then it just went somewhere else.
DC: How did it evolve, then? I mean, you were saying that you were showing it to friends but how much of your own original plot made it into the finished project? You said about half, but can you be more specific?
PB: I think in terms of showing it to friends, we were obviously getting a lot of gut reactions.
MD: What they liked, what they didn’t.
PB: Yeah, the people, too, were other filmmakers. So when you show filmmakers the rough cut, you’re getting specific advice, but it was mostly them telling us what wasn’t working, and then Mark and I had to go back and have our little brain trust and figure out solutions.
MD: And our editor, Chris Donlon, was a third partner in that as well, and so the movie at the end was all of our stuff. What ended up happening is that Josef and Aaron’s characters’ kind of wildly dysfunctional energy was what people latched onto and loved about the movie. It wasn’t that it was scary or not scary, they just loved that and were interested in these characters in the way they related. They kept begging us to take it to a darker place, and we were resistant to that because we aren’t horror filmmakers, but once we sort of realized what the movie wanted to be, we obeyed that and followed it, and it got really fun.
PB: Yeah, and I think the huge factor in that was having Jason Blum responding to the film in the way that he did. It sort of… you know, here is the guy that brought found footage out into the mainstream in a real way, and consistently, and for him to see something in our film was just so validating and exciting. That was all we needed to say yes, let’s completely indulge in those aspects of the movie.
DC: Can you talk a little bit about how it was shot, and if you gave any thought to not making it so shaky it causes headaches (because I didn’t get one from Creep)?
MD: It was very little sound designed, and most horror movies are using a lot of loud sound effects to do that; this movie is predicated on uncomfortable silences; that’s really where the scares come from in a lot of ways, so I don’t know if that was a part of it.
PB: We also, not being found footage guys… I’m kind of OCD when it comes to this aspect of it, but we would come up with an idea for a scene but then we would absolutely have to find a way to justify the camera being on in that scene. So that was something we were having to consider for a moment, and that’s one thing that I think is really hard.
DC: I do remember moments which I appreciated, in how you did creatively find ways to set the camera down on the counter so the image isn’t always moving. Did you have a DP, or was it you two handling the camera?
MD: No, we were a small group; when we started, it was just us up there making the movie. We are all filmmakers and we’ve done a lot, but we went and bought lamps and lights and very carefully pre-lit the room and designed it so that you could see everything in the right ways, but there were certain shadows in certain places so there was a visual design to the movie from the outset. But in terms of having a traditional DP, Patrick was holding the camera and that was just it.
DC: You say that you’re not horror filmmakers, but you do know how to make an effective suspense thriller. How would you describe this film to people who are afraid it’s going to be a slasher, blood and guts, and limbs severed and what not?
MD: I guess the way we talk about it, the horror industry for better or for worse, is clamoring and escalating to find new and interesting ways to shock people. The sound design has hit the limit of how loud you can go so, what do you do? [Crazy camera moves?] Our torture porn has hit its limit. [So] we were just trying to a certain degree, once we realized this was going to be a horror movie, to find us in a unique position to go, “Oh, wow, we can really reset this in a lot of ways” and be the quietest version out there and the most simplistic version out there. Every form has that. Jazz had that where it got so loud and crazy in the 50s and then Miles Davis made “Blue” and reset the whole thing again.
DC: Sure. And The Birds had no music whatsoever.
MD: Yeah. It can be done and I really believe this… there are going to be certain people [who either love or hate Creep]. There’s going to be a lot of zero ratings and a lot of ten ratings, and I’m already seeing that.
PB: It’s happening. and it’s been heartening actually because that was one of the things that we were the most nervous about getting this film out in the world… how the horror community was going to react to it because of the lack of gore and these more traditional elements.
MD: I think if you watch the trailer, the trailer tells you what this movie is. There is no blood splatter and it lets you know what’s going to be happening. Somebody wrote about this movie, they said it was the unholy union of What about Bob? and Fatal Attraction. I just thought that that was perfect.
PB: Fatal Attraction was, outside of my life, one of the films we talked about.
MD: I told Patrick the day before we got up there on location, to just beware because I’m going to be all over your ass in this movie; I’m going to be touching, I’m going to be hugging, I’m going to be just on you… and he was a little scared.
DC: As well he should have been! You were talking a little bit about the extremes of reactions you’re getting so far. As a film reviewer myself, sometimes I have to write reviews of movies that I feel nothing about. It’s really difficult to write about something that’s just blah. Not bad, not great, just there. When you set out to do this movie, what was the bar that you were hoping to hit?
MD: I was so not result-oriented. It was the least result-oriented thing I have ever done. It was very much like, I love Patrick; he have never made a movie yet, we would try this thing together, we knew we could bury it if it sucked because we were making it on our own and doing our thing, so it was very freeing in that way. We didn’t have anybody’s money to reconcile or worry about it; we just went up and did it. So, it was really not until halfway through the film that we thought we actually have a real movie here so; it was very different in that way.
PB: But even with that, having the initial genesis of the movie being this thing that we were just making it for ourselves, we were beholden to no one, but then even the people that we picked up along the way felt like allies, and at the same time it’s such a unique film that if you were in a position to appreciate this film and shepherd it along, we knew you were one of us at that point.
MD: It’s fun to watch the Blumhouse fans come to this movie, too, because there is a certain section, I think, that would reject this movie because it doesn’t do at all what the other Blumhouse movies have done. And then we’re finding another section that’s just saying, “Wow, this is such a cool addition to what they do” because it’s completely different. I’m really happy to have a divisive film in that way.
DC: You partially answered one of the questions that I was going to ask about, but can you elaborate? You guys have Craigslist experiences? How so, as buyers or sellers? Job hunting?
MD: Just as people who are broke, and as artists, you use Craigslist a lot. I did in particular in my early to mid-twenties. I remember living in New York and I bought a loft bed from somebody in deep Queens, and immediately I knew the energy that this person brought to me there was something very wrong and the personal space was really close. He was having a problem parting with the bed and we ended up in a conversation about some personal stuff that was going on with him, there were tears, and there was a moment when I was just like, “This is beautiful.” I can connect with this human being after 30 minutes. Craigslist is so wonderful with that, and then about five minutes after that I was like, “If I don’t get out of here right now, something terrible is going to happen here!” and that’s always stuck with me.
PB: What’s unique about Craigslist is that every interaction that that website creates is one that both parties are trying to get finished with as quickly as possible.
MD: Yeah, you both just want to get the deal done and get out of there.
DC: Do you think there will be a Creep 2?
MD: We loved making this movie, we are very heartened by the fact that people responded to it the way they have, so we are in active talks about making not only a 2 but a bunch of these.
DC: With the same character?
MD: It’s all in discussions at the moment.
You can find the film on iTunes now and on Netflix beginning July 14th.
Aaron (Brice) is an optimistic videographer who decides to come work for Josef (Duplass) after answering his ad on Craigslist. All Aaron has to do is record Josef throughout the day and remain discreet about the entire setup. Josef tells Aaron that he’ll be recording a series of videos for his unborn son, as he’s suffering from a terminal illness and will never be able to see him grow up.
While Josef seems strange, the money is too good for Aaron to pass up, and he agrees to the task. However, as the day progresses, Josef becomes increasingly strange and Aaron finds it difficult to tell whether or not some of the things Josef is saying or doing are truly jokes or actually a sign of true danger and mental instability.