It’s an occasion that matters to very few, but this is a very good month for Patrick Brice.
Last Tuesday, I hadn’t heard of him. In the past 48 hours, I’ve seen two of his films: The Overnight, a sex comedy that expands to more theaters Friday, and Creep, a seemingly improvised found-footage horror flick that’s movin’ on up to Netflix after a quiet three-week stint in the VOD ghetto. Good for him. Brice may have only two films under his belt, but he already has a distinctive voice, and while their plot summaries couldn’t be more dissimilar, they play like a double A-side when viewed in sequence.
I enjoyed The Overnight — more than Marty, anyway — but I think I prefer Creep by a slim margin. It’s rougher, simpler, and less outrageous, but it gives Mark Duplass the role of his career: Josef, a terminal cancer patient who hires the videographer Aaron (Brice) to make a tape of him because he loves the 1993 tearjerker My Life (“a beautiful film,” he tells us, the kind of assertion that tells us all we need to know about a character) and he may never get the chance to meet his unborn son. After all, his brain’s sharing space with a tumor the size of a baseball.
Did I mention this is a horror-comedy? It’s a horror film because there’s something a little “off” about Josef. It’s a comedy for the same reason. His mannerisms feel a little too rehearsed. He’s a little too forward, a little too eager to hug strangers, perhaps a little too comfortable with nudity in a videotape meant for his son. And he really, really likes to jump out and scare people. Duplass receives a story credit for his remarkable creation, rolling up traits from every strain of creep imaginable into one bizarre character whose antics are as entertaining as they are unnerving, and Brice is wise to just sit back and let the camera observe his performance. There are three actors in this film and only two are credited … but, really, this is a one-man show.
However, if Creep’s strengths ended with Duplass, Creep would merely be a good comedy sketch distended to feature length. Brice has adorned his film with subtler charms that only reveal themselves on a second viewing: clever foreshadowing, a temporal problem that opens the film up to more creative interpretations, and a smart structural twist that’s probably inconsequential but satisfying nonetheless. For a first-time filmmaker working on a found-footage flick, he shows a remarkable level of restraint. Brice emphasizes tension over violence (of which there’s hardly any) and keeps his camera steady and his edits infrequent enough that we understand the geography of the spacious house in which most of the plot transpires. And, because meta-horror is apparently inescapable these days, Brice uses Josef’s fondness for startling people to comment on superfluous jump scares. Surprise, surprise: the gambit works.
Creep only falters during the third act, when Aaron begins spending more time on screen at Josef’s expense, relegating the best of the film’s few characters to a background role who drops in from time to time but otherwise leaves a hole only his gonzo lunacy could fill. Aaron’s not a particularly weak character, but it’s like watching a solid straight man work his way through his side of a comedy set while his counterpart is nowhere to be found. It serves a purpose, setting us up for the film’s final sick joke, and Aaron behaves more logically than most horror protagonists, but it’s a dull patch in an otherwise sharp film.
Films like After Hours — films in which protagonists find themselves in increasingly nutty situations as the night from hell rolls on — haven’t seen a whole lot of innovation over the intervening decades. The specifics may change, but the overall tone, the beats, and the payoffs haven’t changed much. As a double feature (call it “After Hours two ways”), Creep and The Overnight both showcase Brice’s knack for rewriting the formula with situations that are nuttier and squirmier than usual, fascinating tonal mashups, and characters who blossom within compressed timelines. Apparently, Creep is the first film in a planned trilogy. I can’t imagine where Brice will take the story from here, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s the rare novice director who is actively trying to surprise us while his classmates work so hard to imitate films we’ve already seen.
Whatever his films’ faults, that’s definitely worth something.Liked This? Share It!