With just two actors, one handheld camera, and a deceptively simple story, Creep is a deliciously dark horror film with hints of black comedy and an ending you’ll be talking about for weeks. Creep is streaming on Netflix, and it’s 82 minutes of pure tension and uncomfortable laughs. I urge you to check it out.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Patrick Brice, who directed, co-wrote, and acted in Creep. I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation as much as I did:
Schyler Martin (Audiences Everywhere): What kind of film did you set out to make with Creep? What did the filmmaking process look like?
Patrick Brice: Going into Creep, we didn’t necessarily think we were going to be making a horror film. We knew we were going to be making a film that touched on some darker themes, but in terms of the big picture that we had in our minds going into it, we were thinking that it was going to be more of a dark comedy. It defaulted to a found-footage movie because Mark [Duplass] and I wanted to make a movie where we didn’t have a crew — that was just, for the most part, the two of us, going out and making something together.
It wasn’t until we actually cut the movie together that we realized that the stronger parts in the movie were the ones that leaned towards genre and moments of narrative tension. We showed it to Jason Blum from Blumhouse, who puts out all the Paranormal Activity movies, and he loved it, but he also saw it as having more potential as a genre film. He came back to us and said, “Guys, if you want to make this more of a horror movie, I’ll put it out.” That was what got us thinking about finding moments in the movie where we could elevate tension, where we could insert scares. Because it was such an arts-and-crafts movie, it was on us to go back and fix any problems that we could. We did probably five or six reshoots that came out of test screenings that we had.
It was a frustrating process, I’ve got to say. You really have to surrender your ego at every step of the way and be honest with yourself in terms of what’s working and what’s not working. Because the film was this relative experiment going into it and we found the movie in the process of making it, it was kind of inevitable that that would continue into the post-production phase. The movie was telling us what it wanted to be, and it was our job to facilitate it to that point.
AE: One of the things that made Creep really special was Mark Duplass’ amazing performance. Was he always Josef for you?
PB:The entire movie was improvised, but when we were writing the treatment and we were discussing who this guy was going to be, we definitely had in mind this charismatic, sick antagonist. The movie was really all about Mark, and a lot of those reshoots were building my character and bringing him back to the forefront. One of the things that was so great about working with Mark was that he has a set of expectations related to him as an actor at this point. Judging by his roles — his stuff for The Mindy Project, his own movies — he’s almost exclusively played a romantic lead. He’s everyone’s boyfriend or husband. It was fun, and I know it was fun for him, to play someone who was more on the sinister side of things. He got to use those other tools. He is charismatic, and viewers are inclined to like him and to trust him, so it was fun to take all of that and flip it on its head.
AE: Absolutely. We’ve talked about Mark’s role in the film, but I don’t want to downplay yours, because your role was essential to making the film work as well as it did. Are you more comfortable with acting or would you rather be behind the scenes?
PB: I definitely prefer the behind-the-scenes aspects. I had fun acting, but towards the end of production, it was becoming a chore for me. It was a lot to have on my shoulders. But it was great, because I tend to learn from experience in anything that I’ve done in any part of my life. I prefer directing because I feel like I’m able to focus my energy and guide things in a way that I can be in tune with my instincts. When I’m acting and having to direct myself, it’s like my brain is split in two. I learned how to do it while making Creep, and I’m grateful to Creep for that, and I am very open to acting again, so we’ll see. It was definitely trial by fire when it came to being in the movie while solving problems in story and putting the puzzle of the movie together.
AE: There is an underlying sense of dread, especially with Josef’s character, throughout the film. Was that intentional?
PB: Oh, absolutely. It’s all about laying out breadcrumbs for the audience, giving them enough information that they feel like they’re getting ahead of it, and then hopefully subverting that expectation. That’s the game you play. It’s a hard thing to do, especially with found footage. But just because the movie costs as much as, you know, a used Honda Civic, it is still really difficult to thread that needle and keep people engaged. There’s also the fact that you can come up with the best idea in the world, but if you can’t come up for a realistic justification for why the camera is on, then it doesn’t matter. You have to operate on multiple levels at the same time.
AE: Speaking of that dread, I have to ask about the ending. You talked about how the film was improvised, how did that ending come to be?
PB: There are actually four or five different versions of the ending that we shot. The original ending had a lot more sweetness to it. There was the potential for Aaron to help and befriend Josef, and it ended with them connecting with each other in the initial cut of the movie. It wasn’t until we showed it to people, got feedback, and saw that folks were responding to the darker aspects of the film that we decided to go full gore. We questioned having the ending for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s one of the most memorable things in the movie, and I think it ends up being satisfying.
Creep is a movie that asks a lot of the audience because there are so many uncomfortable silences; there’s so much uncomfortable humor. To have audiences sit there and engage with what’s essentially two characters talking to each other for most of the time, it felt good at the end of the movie to give people something that would catch them completely off guard. Even though there is expectation in the movie, we’ve done this thing where we draw a line in the sand, we walk up to it, we dance around it, and then we back away a few times. When we do finally cross the line, once the guard is down, hopefully that’s a fun thing at the end of the day.
AE: You’ve made a film that fits in the horror genre, but also subverts it in a lot of ways. What do you want to see more of in modern horror?
PB: I wouldn’t call myself a horror authority, because I actually don’t watch a lot of horror movies. I think that’s what makes Creep unique: It was made by two people who don’t watch horror movies. We were just stumbling into the genre. We knew there were horror-movie clichés, but we didn’t know what they were. So when we were subverting them, we were doing it by default, by just trying to tell a compelling story.
The gig is up in terms of making horror movies that are just about seeing blood and guts on screen. It behooves filmmakers going into the horror genre to make movies with compelling characters, because that’s another level of fear. Relying on situational stuff isn’t going to cut it nowadays. You have to get people to care about the characters.
Me as a viewer, the type of stuff that I’ve been more interested in seeing lately have been films like The Babadook or Goodnight Mommy… I thought Spring was really great. These are films that have horror elements in them, but they’re also character studies, thrillers. They’re trying to do something new with horror. Still though, I’ll watch Halloween until the cows come home. I am happy that torture porn has run its course. I don’t think there was a lot more to do there. I’m excited to see what comes out of the next generation.
AE: You directed another movie recently, The Overnight, and both films share elements of dark, uncomfortable humor, but in a lot of ways, The Overnight couldn’t be more different than Creep. What inspired you to make these two very different movies?
PB: I’ve always been interested in doing comedy. That’s a route that I’ve wanted to move towards in my career. Making Creep was such a long and specific process. I never thought my first film would be a found-footage horror movie. Ever. That was just the opportunity that presented itself at the time — likewise with The Overnight. That came from Mark saying he would produce a small movie for me if I wrote it. The idea that we came up with was this long night for these two couples having a crazy experience. What was cool about it was that I felt like I was able to take a lot that I learned from Creep, especially with applying narrative tension, and put it into The Overnight. There are some horror-movie moments in The Overnight too, and I think that’s why the film works. You’re leaning in and trying to figure out what’s happening while the movie is happening. There’s a sense of mystery to it.
I think that sensibility might come from a subconscious place on some level. I love reading crime fiction, especially older writers like Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. Those guys write extremely tight narratives that move. There’s not a lot of fat on them. They’re just an absolute pleasure to read, so I think some of that sensibility seeped into both of these movies. They’re both 80 minutes long. Both have an element of mystery, regardless of the genre. They’re both me trying to tell an engaging story and not waste people’s time.
AE: What kind of movies do you see yourself making in the future?
PB: One of the things that’s great about filmmaking is you can be interested in everything, and I am. Because Creep and The Overnight came out around the same time and are both hopefully representative of me being able to do two different things, I haven’t pigeonholed myself immediately. I want to keep my options open, so I could see myself making another horror movie; I could see myself making another comedy. It depends on where the material is coming from. I’m still figuring out what comes next.
It’s an odd and specific thing to have your first and second movie essentially come out the same week, and to have the last four years of my life thrown out there in one swoop. It takes three years to make something, and then it takes someone 80 minutes to watch it and say, “Okay, what’s next?” So I’m trying to be cautious and deliberate about deciding what’s next. I know that whatever’s next, that’ll be another two to five years of my life.
It’s been cool to see people respond to both of these movie, but especially Creep. It’s such a specific thing, that movie, but we’ve gotten such strong responses. People either love it or hate it, and I would much rather put something out that people feel that way about than put something out that people are just shrugging their shoulders at.
AE: At the end of the day, all else said and done, what do you want viewers to take away from Creep?
PB: If they have any inclination to be an artist, a writer, a filmmaker, I hope that they’ll take away the fact that this is something that’s attainable regardless of the means you have available to you. Hopefully it’s inspirational as the potential to make something. I hope it’s representative of the fact that you don’t need a lot of money to make certain stories if you’re being really deliberate about it. I’m excited to see the kind of life that it’s going to have now that it’s out there and accessible.
Thematically, the movie has a lot to say about trust and boundaries and being cautious about letting people into your life. It’s kind of odd for a movie like this to come out at a time when technology is a huge part of our lives that’s slowly taking away face-to-face interaction, and maybe it’s a cautionary tale on some level. Maybe it’s just my own neurosis being thrown out for people to engage with. I don’t know, but I hope it gets people thinking.
Featured Image: The Orchard