Written by: Mark Duplass & Patrick Brice
Directed by: Patrick Brice
Starring: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, and Karan Soni
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"What am I doing trying to make the films I that used to make?"
Skepticism naturally surrounds Creep 2—not because its predecessor was disappointing but because it felt like such a self-contained, singular experience that doesn’t exactly beg for a follow-up. With a hook that basically amounts to having audiences watch a boiling pot slowly, ominously spill over with a lone burst of violence, it’s fair to wonder if it’s the sort of thing anyone wants to sit through again. No matter how weirdly charismatic Mark Duplass’s titular creep is, you can’t help but doubt his ability to carry another one of these things, especially since the intrigue is naturally a bit lessened; the first time around, the inevitability enhances the sense of fatalism—with a sequel, it might just feel like a bad case of predictable déjà vu.
But, as it turns out, Duplass and director Patrick Brice have a clever hook here, too, at least once they indulge a typical slasher prologue. We watch as Josef (now sporting the name Aaron) is up to his usual tricks: leaving cryptic discs and using hidden cameras to spy on an oblivious mark (Karan Soni) that doesn’t even make it past this first scene without having his throat ruthlessly cut. A look of weariness washes over Josef’s face, though: now nearing 40, he admits that killing random strangers just isn’t doing much for him anymore, a somewhat oblique, metafictional acknowledgement that Creep 2 itself can’t just be the same old shit. As such, it quickly shifts gears to a different sort of voyeur in Sara (Desiree Akhavan) , a college student with a fledgling Youtube show dedicated to tracking down and filming encounters from the weirdest Craigslist ads she uncovers. Frustrated with the show’s lack of traction, she takes a flyer on an especially puzzling ad requesting a videographer to document an entire day in the life of its author.
Audiences will experience the slightest twinge of déjà vu as Sara retraces her predecessor’s ill-fated steps from the original. Once again, we watch as Aaron’s latest victim wanders towards a woodsy retreat, where they’re greeted by this impossibly outgoing but mostly affable weirdo. You feel like you can almost set your watch by how this is going to go. However, in a clever turn of events, Aaron is quick to let Sara in on the horrific truth: not only is he a serial killer, but he’s also the most prolific maniac nobody’s ever heard of—and he wants her to tell his story before he kills himself. Remarkably—and this is where the film continues to surprise—Sara is seemingly unfazed, even when Aaron shows off his favorite murder video (the climax from Creep, here even more unbearably tense).
An already intense situation becomes even more so at this point, if only because you don’t know what the hell Sara is thinking. Where most reasonable people would be scurrying for the door as soon as the opportunity presented itself, she hangs around. At one point, Aaron suggests a bonding exercise to “tear down the barriers between them” that involves stripping down to the nude, and Sara doesn’t even flinch. Not only does she watch him gleefully disrobe, but she’s also quick to take her turn. The puzzled look on Aaron’s face says it all: has he found a kindred spirit, or does this girl simply have no clue what she’s in for? That uncertainty guides the early-going, lending the film an unexpected edginess—maybe Creep 2 won’t unfold as a hollow recitation of the first film after all. After all, Aaron himself admits that his routine has grown old, a metafictional dig at sequels that obliquely signals this film's aim to do something new.
For the most part, that bears itself out: while Sara does reveal that she’s skeptical about Aaron’s claims (she’s careful to stow away a knife, though, just in case), Creep 2 remains compelling nonetheless. It does operate sort of similarly to its predecessor, at least in the sense that it’s essentially a feature-length exercise in Hitchcock’s bomb-under-the-table principle. We know—or are at least fairly certain—that Aaron’s façade (which involves a promise not to kill Sara) will eventually dissolve, and it’s just a matter of when this whole thing will go south for Sara. Like the original film, Creep 2 is as uncomfortable as it is unnerving, only this time doubly so because you feel like Sara’s overconfidence is simply digging her a deeper hole in the most literal sense possible since Aaron is prone to talking about digging graves for his victims.
However, the tiniest bit of doubt lingers, most of it generated from Duplass’s magnetic but shifty reprisal of this maniac. Aaron is as unnervingly charming as ever, this time delving more deeply into his personal history—well, provided you can actually believe anything he says. Duplass is masterful at treading that line between genuine pathos and bullshit that makes this character so fascinating: he’s at once utterly convincing but also so full of shit all at once. More than anything, you find yourself wanting to believe him, particularly during his most intimate, revealing moments that seek to bring some explanation for his behavior. It’s almost comforting to think there could be an explanation, though Duplass’s wry streak undercuts it just so, thus solidifying this character as one of the most intriguing monsters in recent memory. There are times—such as when he tries to dramatically recount his birth but keeps being interrupted by a bird—that you’re so taken in my Aaron that you almost forget he’s a complete lunatic, essentially putting you in the shoes of his disarmed, oblivious victims.
Of course, Sara isn’t simply another victim: unlike her predecessor, she’s no mere audience surrogate, existing only to uncover more about Aaron. Akhavan infuses her with a genuine presence, which is no small feat considering she spends most of the film behind the camera. Both her resolve and her naivety are obvious, but there’s also something shifty about her, too. Just what is she up to? Is she genuinely concerned for Aaron, or is she just exploiting him for her show? Can she really be that desperate, or is she also a little crazy too? At a certain point, you realize Creep 2 is just as much about her as it is about Aaron—this isn’t just a rote sequel that introduces fresh meat to be disposed of by the killer. Rather, it’s like the beginning of a psychotic dance with death that slowly, playfully unfolds, with the two taking turns feeling the other out. When Aaron tries out one of his patented jump scares on her, she eventually returns in kind, signaling that this won’t be the same dynamic this time out.
Their twisted dalliance dovetails into a fiendishly entertaining climax, as all of the film’s pent-up, nervous energy unwinds with a series of increasingly screwy events. It’s here that Creep 2 upends all expectations by somehow morphing into a warped, bloody tete-a-tete that’s way more fun than expected given the grim premise. Defying those expectations (and perhaps good taste), the film almost becomes a black comedy during its final few moments, at which point it dares you to laugh at its absurdity. It practically plunges headlong into the disbelief you might have had about a sequel to Creep, embracing the lunacy of its title character until its final, devious shot. Forget simply obliterating any doubts about this sequel—by the end, you’re actively craving the next installment in what has quickly become one of the genre’s most interesting—and unlikely—series.
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