Friday 29 December 2017

On demand: "Creep 2"

Creep 2, a sequel to 2014's disarming found-footage chiller, begins where its predecessor left off, with an unknowing victim-to-be receiving a DVD that suggests someone's been watching him uncomfortably closely. What becomes especially unnerving, as the sequence (and DVD) rolls on, is that the houseguest introduced offscreen as Aaron, a name we associate with the patsy of the first film, turns out on camera to be Josef, the psychopathic narcissist (played by writer-star Mark Duplass) last seen making Aaron's life such a misery. No trace survives of the actual Aaron (though Patrick Brice, who played him, stays on as director), but we soon learn that Josef's original Craigslist post has attracted many more responses, including one from Sara (Desiree Akhavan), director-host of a failing webseries in which she makes blithe fun of men encountered online. Despite the namechange, Josef remains the same old oversharer: within moments of Sara's arrival at his woodland bolthole, he's announced he is, in fact, a serial killer, shown her the first film's bloody climax as proof, stripped naked, and confessed that he might be undergoing a midlife crisis. Sara, sensing he might provide all the material she needs to clinch her thesis on pathetic masculinity, elects to stick around. So begins the last of 2017's myriad battles of the sexes.

Now that both films have entered into wider Netflix circulation, it's possible to view them as the closest American equivalent to that fin-de-siècle Belgian provocation Man Bites Dog, though there's arguably something much funnier still about Josef-turned-Aaron, a lonely, needy sociopath aggrieved by his lack of fame and insistent his every banal word and action be taken seriously. Both movies are sustained by Duplass's weirdly credible portrayal of a predator in sheep's clothing, hiding his darker motives beneath a toplayer of boyish ingenuousness that he uses to nuzzle up against his victims' boundaries; he would seem a topical monster even without his insistence on getting the whole process on camera. Yet if Brice's Aaron was an obvious fall guy, getting further out of his depth the deeper Josef led him into the woods, Akhavan's Sara arrives as rather more of an equal or match. She films Josef with his hair and guard down in the hot tub; he goes to film her in the shower, only to get the fright of his life - and then fights back by informing her, in his signature dead-eyed, passive-aggressive style, that he knows the ingratiating games journalists like her have traditionally played with their subjects.

Like many of the mumblecore experiments from which Duplass first emerged, there's nothing much to it: just a pair of performers, stumbling round the one location in deceptively casual set-ups. Yet Akhavan, displaying more of that droll wit she brought to bear on 2014's Appropriate Behaviour, lends the central face-off a new dynamic and depth. The tension this time around derives from our uncertainty as to whether Sara is Josef's enabler, massaging his ego while boosting her own brand by the act of getting such an oddbod on tape, or his Waterloo, using her feminine wiles to undermine her subject's murderous egotism. In any event, it's a rare sequel that uses the extra time to interrogate both its returning character - where he came from, what his aims are, why he feels so starved of attention - and, to some degree, the world that spawned the likes of him; the narrative creeps towards dual punchlines, the first of which should satisfy anybody who bridled before the gender politics of Darren Aronofsky's mother!, the second more unnerving yet. I don't think more than six actors in total can have shown up in these movies, but they've succeeded in suggesting a universe full of individuals whose self-image has warped entirely, leaving them running amok with cameras in a desperate bid to regain control and put themselves back on top. Netflix have both films filed away in the horror-thriller category; in our Kardashian age, there's a case they may also legitimately qualify as documentary.

Creep 2 is now streaming on Netflix. 

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