We’re about to round out October, the prime month for horror movies and many of us have likely watched a lot over the month. Whether it be the new Halloween in theaters or revisiting some old favorites at home, watching horror movies is one of the best staples of fall.
There’s a lot that goes into why we choose what horror movies to watch, but most of the time it’s for something terrifying and surprising. We rewatch old favorites because we want to feel what we did when we first watched them. The best horror movies haunt us long after they’re over and make us want to come back. Sadly, some horror films fall into the patterns of scares done before and lack the innovation needed to be a fresh scare. Films that turn towards the weird and unsettling have tended to bring something new to the genre, like 2014 horror film Creep.
Creep is a collaboration between Patrick Brice (director, star, and co-writer) and Mark Duplass (star and co-writer) that shows the faux-documentary footage of a young filmmaker (Brice) hired by a man Josef (Duplass) to film a video for his unborn son. Off the bat, Josef is weird, but Aaron needs the money and wants to believe that Josef isn’t truly evil. Soon, he finds that Josef has lied about his unborn son and basically everything else he told Aaron. Josef stalks Aaron over a period of weeks, breaking into his house to give him messages and sending very odd mail. Eventually, he kills Aaron in a park, taking Aaron’s camera and all his footage to keep as just one his many trophies from victims just like Aaron.
Josef makes an unusual villain in a horror film. He doesn’t need a mask, although he likes to wear a weird wolf mask for fun. He doesn’t even have a weapon until the very end. What makes him so scary is what we don’t know about him throughout. Creep is set up so wonderfully that it plays on the instincts of the audience. In small spurts throughout the movie, Josef sets off all the alarms we have in our heads to ward off weird people in reality. We have to stick with him since Aaron does, going against every instinct in our minds to flee. Riding out that desire to get out just as Josef continues to get weirder builds up and intense fear watching this movie unlike most horror films out there. He’s not an all-powerful demon or an unkillable mass murderer. He’s a guy that could and probably has existed in real life, which makes him ten times scarier than most villains.
There’s also an element of hope in Creep that is completely squashed. Entertainingly, the movie invites us to give Josef the benefit of the doubt as Aaron does throughout his time with him. None of us want to really believe that someone could be as malicious as Josef is. Aaron doesn’t blindly trust him, but Josef is a manipulative mastermind who’s able to fool him into thinking he’s a normal guy. Since we hope that maybe Josef will stop and leave Aaron alone, the movie always sets up that hope and kills it immediately. Just when it seems that Aaron is going to die in the cabin with Josef, the movie cuts to him in his home safe. Josef promises to meet Aaron out of good in a public place seeming impossibly bad, he kills him in broad daylight. The film’s recognition of our own instinct to stay away from creepy people, but also our hope in that our initial distrust of them is wrong is what creates the unsettling feeling that’s stronger than any jump scare we could imagine.
It’s comforting being able to control when we want to be scared, especially in this world with so many horrible things happening in reality. We can be exhilarated by a horror movie, being scared in surprising ways. Creep is realistic in a lot of ways. It focuses on just two characters throughout the whole movie without anything supernatural or otherworldly at play. Its killer is a manipulative man able to fool most people that he’s normal enough to be trusted until he wants to show them how messed up he truly is. The way its shot, in a sort of found footage way, only makes everything seem more real and fits with this story especially well. Creep‘s realistic elements make us find everything believable at the moment, but thankfully it’s bizarre enough that we don’t fear a Josef in every person we converse with afterward.
Some of the best horror films in the past decade have been movies that deviate from the normal horror patterns. Creep could’ve gone the route of making it a goose chase between Aaron and Josef, confined to this one night in the cabin in the middle of nowhere. Instead, it plays on the prolonged threat of a stalker, pushing the plot into Aaron’s own home. There’s absolutely no gore in the film until the very end, and even then it’s far away. The true horror of the movie isn’t the graphicness of what Josef does, it’s the psychologically damaging journey to that end. The storytelling partnered with the filmmaking choices makes Creep the kind of innovation we need in horror. It’s the unsettling realization that the evil in this movie isn’t unbelievably fictional that is horrifying. Horror movies should always try to find ways to reinvent the genre and one way to do that could be questioning what audiences would find scary and how to show that in surprising ways. Those become the tropes that are overused because they worked once, but the ones that reinvent themselves like Creep remain great horror movies we return to October after October.
You can stream Creep and it’s sequel Creep 2 on Netflix now.