Creep (streaming on Netflix)
The great test for a Horror story is this: if the story was stopped at the end of any given scene, would you want to start it back up and see what happens next? In my little parade of Horror Movies so far, only Under the Skin and Pontypool have been this good at acing the test. Creep is expertly designed, a tight Found Footage movie running just 1:17.
Aaron is a broke cameraman hired to film the entire day with a random guy from Craigslist, named Josef. Josef reveals that he has two months to live thanks to a brain tumor and won’t live to see the birth of his son, and wants to document what his life was like. He’s eccentric but warm, and it’s pretty hard not to feel sympathy for him.
But before their introductions are over, Josef strips naked right in front of Aaron. He has an explanation, but it’s the first in a long series of strange behaviors. Josef keeps testing the boundaries of what Aaron will put up with, including hiding to jump out at him for “jokes,” confessing increasingly disturbing events, and as dusk approaches, creating every excuse possible to make him stay.
Pretty soon you’re questioning whether Josef has a son, and if he’s sick at all. It contributes to the paranoia for Aaron’s safety, and to the intrigue of what’s actually wrong with Josef. Mark Duplass shines as Josef, straddling the line between someone with too much weight in his life, and someone who might be dangerous.
The movie wanders into ableist territory here. The “is he really sick or just out for sympathy?” trope has led to too many cruelties to the chronically ill and disabled. It’s bullshit and needs to be engaged with critically. I can see why moviemakers think it’s subversive, as movies with sympathetic disabled and chronically ill protagonists have been around for so long. Silver Bullet was one of the first Horror Movies I saw as a kid. But this faking trope is worn out, and grates the more often you see it.
People with disabilities and chronic illnesses respond to these in different ways. I took it in stride, and appreciated the strengths of the movie so much that it didn’t bother me on the viewing. It’s something people need to be aware of, though.
As an aside, I’m still mulling over a post on Don’t Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and individual responses to ableism in Horror. I’d like to get it up before Halloween, but it may have to wait until after.
I was pulled through by Creep’s phenomenal ability to set up scene after scene, always teasing what would come next. After Aaron and Josef bang into each other and the camera goes black for two seconds, followed by the picture returning with neither of them in frame and set somewhere the movie has never gone before, how couldn’t you want to know what comes next?
While Creep is great at getting you from one scene to another, its payoff is weak. So many early scenes end in a more interesting fashion than you expect, but the ending is one of the most obvious things possible. For me, it’s well worth the ride. Horror has a long history of weak endings. But you should be ready for it.
The Good Neighbor (rentable on Google Play, Youtube, and iTunes for $6.99)
What a brilliant concept after all those Found Footage Haunting movies! The Good Neighbor follows a pair of awful teenagers who, in the name of “science,” bug a neighbor’s house and prank him into believing that he’s being haunted. They toy with his lights, stereo, thermostat, even his back door to slam at specific intervals. After the old man snaps and destroys his rigged back door with an axe, they know they’ve stumbled on something. Then their equipment begins to malfunction as though someone (or something) is watching them.
It’s a great premise, but the movie never quite lives up to it. The product is exactly the sort of thing I recommend beginning writers watch to learn from.
The Good Neighbor stumbles with its many points of view. Horror hinges on giving the audience only the right details, and so you usually stick with a protagonist, or just their small group, letting the audience know little more than the people they’re investing in. When Peter Benchley gives us the shark’s point of view for a scene in his novel Jaws, it’s calculated to increase tension by letting us know just a little more. But The Good Neighbor gives the audience an overload of POVs. They include:
1) Traditional movie scenes following the teens go through their plots
2) Traditional movie scenes following the subject both when he’s being messed with, and not, such as simply taking out the garbage or getting into arguments with strangers
3) Flashbacks to the man’s past, usually memories he’s having
4) “Found footage” confessionals in which the teens narrate their motives to their camera
5) “Found Footage” that the teens are recording of their subject
6) Flashforwards to a trial related to the pseudo-haunting, with a prosecutor talking about the tragedy
There are so many sources of information in these six points of view that the audience struggles to focus. There’s no structure to cohere the three different time periods and three different filming styles together. The movie jumps between them whenever it seems convenient, and it’s guaranteed to annoy people who just want to get invested in the teens’ plot or whatever is happening to the old man.
If it was just Found Footage, you would focus on what the teens know and what they need to find out, dreading the mystery. If it was just present-tense of the teens and the old man, you could balance the interplay of what each party knows. As it is, The Good Neighbor gets so cluttered that it can’t build anticipation of anything.