Just when you thought it was safe to make documentaries with complete strangers again…
When Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass gave Creep to the world in 2014 they reignited interest in the tired found footage genre as only an original idea could. The sequel, fittingly titled Creep 2, does the same by further exploring themes of identity, friendship, and madness in a way wholly unique to this franchise. The new film may not be better than its predecessor, but it expands this tiny cinematic universe in ways sure to unnerve viewers.
Duplass returns in Creep 2 under a new name. Viewers of the first film will recall that he had two names, Joseph and Bill, but now he’s borrowing from the protagonist of the first film and going by Aaron instead. He’s a bit more miserable than before, having found himself on the edge of forty and struggling to retain his passions in life, but nonetheless deceptive. The film opens with Aaron sharing a beer with a recent acquaintance who complains of being stalked by a stranger. Aaron listens, offers comfort, then reveals it is he who has been following his friend. When the friend moves to speak, Aaron slashes his throat before bemoaning his struggle to remain invested in his ‘work’.
Sarah (Desiree Akhavan) is an aspiring YouTube star whose work finds her seeking out men who post Craigslist personal ads in hopes of understanding what has driven them to seek love on the internet. Her series, Encounters, has become a revolving door of strange men with strange ticks that no one seems to watch. She is drawn to Aaron after finding an ad seeking a videographer for paid work. She responds, and after a brief exchange where Aaron inquire if she is easily scared, Sarah sets off to meet her new employer.
Aaron is living in the same remote home as the first film, only now his hair is a bit longer than before. Rather than make up a lie about his intentions as he did before, Aaron informs Sarah he is a serial killer with thirty-nine victims. He’s proud of his numbers, but with his fortieth birthday on the horizon he’s begun spiraling into a midlife crisis. He claims to no longer trust his instincts, but after finding inspiration in a Francis Ford Coppola quote about aging he’s decided to make a documentary. He wants Sarah to document him, the world’s most prolific serial killer, over the course of a single night. In exchange for her help he promises to let her live and answer anything she asks, which is enough to convince Sarah he’s worth risking her life.
The second act of Creep 2 follows the same basic outline as its predecessor, with our new protagonist entertaining Aaron’s every whim has does and says increasingly irrational things. The difference this time around lies in how Sarah chooses to react, which more often than not is purposely the opposite of what she assumes Aaron wishes to see happen. When he tries to spook her, Sarah doesn’t get scared. In fact, she attempts to scare Aaron in return. The man who enters the film by complaining about how routine the act of murder has become suddenly finds a new reason to live, and with that discovery sets himself and Sarah on a course toward mutually assured destruction.
Akhavan holds her own in the film, pouring her body and soul into the role of Sarah order to match the unhinged behavior of Duplass’ Aaron. Her character’s ever-present, but suppressed apprehension is conveyed expertly with the slightest hint of quiet self-reassurance that the chaos around her is precisely what she set out to find when first launching her show. She wanted to be caught off guard, and she – like Aaron – has found her match in this new relationship.
Duplass, meanwhile, is on another level with this feature. Several times throughout the narrative he is provided quiet space to reveal parts of Aaron that both fascinate and disgust. He holds the floor as the camera remains steadily focused on his largely expressionless face, as if every word he speaks and action he makes has been timed just right for maximum effect. This character will be considered one of his great roles for the foreseeable future, if the not the rest of his career.
Most sequels that attempt to revisit the original premise from a new angle cannot escape the shadow of what came before. Creep 2 is an exception, retreading familiar territory to create a new story that builds on the foundations of its predecessor without delivering the same experience twice. The results are not so much scary as they are deeply unsettling, but regardless the narrative should provide the perfect amount of nightmare fuel for those willing to take the journey.