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Blood on the Lens: Patrick Brice Talks “Creep”

Few horror debuts this year have made an impact like Patrick Brice’s Creep, the offbeat “Craigslist chiller” which premiered at Austin’s indie showcase SXSW in March. A two-hander, starring Brice as cash-strapped freelance cameraman Aaron and sometime writer-director Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Cyrus, Baghead) as his latest client Josef, is a sly combo of genres which rings some welcome changes on the fast-staling “found-footage” formula.

Among a slew of critical raves reaped out of Austin, Indiewire‘s Drew Taylor enthused that is “a tiny movie whose uniqueness feels positively seismic. If there’s one thing Creep has, it’s an abundance of personality, and that cannot be understated. If producer Jason Blum made the found footage horror movie commonplace in the multiplex, then this is a thankful return to art house strangeness and announces, in Brice, a bold new voice in the horror genre; he’s scary good.”

I caught up with the lanky (6’6″), bespectacled, genial, 31-year-old, California-born, Brice at the American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland last month, where he delved into Creep‘s genre roots and its unorthodox development ahead of a US theatrical released planned for early in 2015.

Director Bio ImageDiabolique: Creep straddles various genres, one of which is obviously horror. Did you grow up as a fan of those kinds of films?

Patrick Brice: I grew up being introduced to film by watching VHS movies with my dad—he wasn’t like a huge horror buff or anything—it was when I started to seek movies out on my own that horror entered the picture. Never in the theater, ’cause my parents would never take me. So it was watching the Friday the 13th movies, or the Halloween movies—it was always the series—I’d end up watching Halloween 5 or something like that. I was always intrigued by the “taboo” of it but, in terms of it being an aspect of my filmmaking life, I didn’t really start thinking about it seriously until later on after watching bigger stuff like The Shining.

Diabolique: You hinted that the process of making the film was quite a long, organic process, which did involve reshoots and input from other people.

PB: The biggest factor in this was Jason Blum from Blumhouse coming in and becoming involved with the movie. Because of the Paranormal Activity franchise and because of his success with low-budget horror stuff he watches every found-footage thing known to man. The fact that he was excited by our movie, and was excited enough to the point of wanting to back our movie, was just a huge source of joy and inspiration for me, I felt like it was a film that was totally different from everything else, found-footage-wise, and his advice only helped the film. The stuff that makes the film different and special and unique is kind of inherent in it, anyway.

Diabolique: When Blum came on board, did he do that on the proviso that it would become a “Blumhouse film?”

PB: Uhhh…. yeah! We showed him a rough cut of the film about a year ago, and he said he would like to take it on and make it a Blumhouse film, but at the same time nudging it—I think the way he described it was 10-20% in the genre direction. And knowing how cheap and relatively easy it was for us to go back and reshoot, it made sense, at the time. And, at the end of the day that decision, with him coming on, is one of the reasons why I’m here being able to show the film at places like this.

Diabolique: And John Carpenter, of course, reshot The Fog, which he effectively made twice, so if it’s good enough for John Carpenter…

PB: Yeah, there you go! [laughs]

Diabolique: And there is one specific example of what I would call a Carpenter homage, a moment when a character is suddenly revealed standing in a doorframe, and it’s a nice little hat-tip to one of my favorites, Halloween.

PB: Like I said before, I’m sure that was something that was deep in my subconscious—I’m grateful that it’s in there, ’cause he’s one of my favorites too. When it comes to the horror genre he might actually be my favorite.

Diabolique: Have Carpenter or any of the other big horror-names seen the film around the festivals so far?

PB: I’m not sure—I know in terms of contemporary guys I know Simon Barrett from You’re Next and The Guest saw it and tweeted at me how much he’d enjoyed it—that was huge for me, especially from coming from someone that I know cares so much about the genre and wants to see it evolve. That was huge for me.

Diabolique: You mentioned Barrett and Wingard, is there any sense of a community of people, of younger people, who are making films which could be broadly bracketed together, without necessarily calling it “Mumblegore” or some silly name like that?

PB: I think so… Creep being my first foray into this, I’m not aware that I’m part of that community yet but I think there definitely is, and I think because I’m going to make two more movies, and because I’m going to be continuing working with Blumhouse in that, I have found myself sort of stumbling into being a part of it—and it’s exciting. We’re going to see It Follows tonight—I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about that. I loved The Guest. While it is an obvious homage to Carpenter, it still felt new and fresh and didn’t feel derivative at the same time.

There’s an article by Alex Ross Perry on the Talkhouse Film website and he’s talking about The Guest as being Adam Wingard’s fifth movie, or something like that, and one of the reasons why it works so well is that he knew to make five movies before making his dream project. So, for me, Creep was this new, sort of amorphous way to make a movie. And in making it, and having this two-year process of going back and reshooting, I essentially learned how to make a narrative film. It’s much different than my next movie, but it completely informed making my next movie.

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Diabolique: Will you shoot Creep 2 and Creep 3 back-to-back?

PB: The plan right now is to shoot them one at a time. In terms of release, they’re going to try to release them fairly close to each other just to keep the buzz going. I know it’s going to be a simultaneous VOD and theatrical release: Creep will come out theatrically, then Creep 2 will come out theatrically maybe when Creep 1 is being released on DVD. That type of model.

Diabolique: And then obviously the box set will follow!

PB: [laughs] Exactly! I can’t wait. As a collector of VHSs and DVDs as a kid, I hope that that still exists by the time Creep is put out, I hope physical media is still a thing by that point.

Diabolique: And in the film we do see certain types of what are now semi-outmoded formats, there are DVDs in the film, at another point VHS tapes. Whereas DCPs—do they have any horror value at all?

PB: There’s horror in the mystery of getting an object in the mail, as in Lost Highway, or in The Ring—the idea that putting a physicality on what is scary in the movie only heightens it, it’s not something that can exist when you’re sending video-clips to each other online, or something like that. And I love it because it kind-of inherently makes the movie “uncool” in a way—like it steeps it in the early 2000s, the fact that we actually shot on a camera that was probably top of the line in like 2005 or 2006, at the end of the day creates this look that I really love, which feels more authentic to me. I’ve seen a couple of the newer found-footage movies that are shot on nice equipment, and they’ll throw a filter on it to make it seem more scary, or like it’s a consumer camera that’s being used. But for us, the fact we were actually using kind-of-a shitty camera—and the plan right now is we’re going use the same camera to shoot the next two movies, because why not? It does all that it needs to do…

Diabolique: You’re playing Aaron, and Mark Duplass is playing Josef. Both of you are filmmakers. The simple question is why cast yourself? Did you feel possession of that part to the degree that nobody else should get their hands on Aaron?

PB: No, I felt no possession whatsoever, it just came as a result of Mark and I wanting to collaborate on something, and I don’t even think there was a point where I made a decision to be in the movie, or Mark suggested that I be in the movie, it was just “Let’s do this” from the get-go. I’m not an actor, I did have some reservations, but at the same time a lot of decisions I made in my life like this I just sort of jumped in and did it, and trusted my instincts that I would come up with a performance that felt real. I’m a real harsh critic on myself, so if something wasn’t working, I’m good at acknowledging that and getting back in and fixing that. There’s a lot of bad takes [laughs] that exist on a hard-drive somewhere which will never be seen.

Diabolique: The film also fits into the sub-genre of what I’d call the “confinement” or “claustrophobic” nightmare, where somebody enters a situation they find difficulty escaping, for whatever reason: physically or psychologically. And for me, it ties in with the idea that in a cinema you elect to be confined within a room with other people. What do you think these nightmares tell us about us as people, as filmmakers, and as film-watchers?

PB: One of the things I realized with this movie being embraced by the genre community, is that I haven’t really paid attention to why people watch movies like that, before. And watching my movie with an audience makes me realize that there’s a masochistic quality—people want to feel those little shots of adrenalin that you get. The fact that this movie is confined and claustrophobic already, as a result of how we made it, only helps about what you’re saying there. The experience of watching this movie, more so than a lot of movies, changes whether you’re watching it at home on a link on your computer, watching it on your home theater system with one other person, or watching it in a cinema with a bunch of other people. Watching this film at home—it seems like the horror element really comes out and people really feel uncomfortable and scared. Whereas when you’re watching this in a theater, you hear people joke, and laugh, and there’s sort of a sense of relief.

Diabolique: Have you now started targeting, or being approached by specifically genre festivals, because there are so many horror and similarly-themed festivals now? Does the film now straddle these different types of festivals?

PB: Absolutely. The film played at SXSW when it first opened, and then after that it’s had this kind of dual life, where it played at Locarno—which isn’t necessarily a genre festival—and then it would play at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield or Fright Fest 4 in London. And the best reception that we’ve gotten for the film has come out of those genre festivals. It’s been people who are sick of the found-footage genre, seeing something new and enjoying it. If you go into this movie simply based on the description, I think you’re going to be surprised. Hopefully pleasantly surprised. I think some people have not been pleasantly surprised, but those are people that this would never appeal to in the first place.

Diabolique: At a festival like Locarno, and general festivals, it’s full of people going to watch classic films in retrospectives, and they praise them as examples of genre, so it’s odd that those people still tend to be a bit snobby towards current examples of genre. Is there still, even now, all these years later, genre for certain people isn’t seen as serious cinema?

PB: I totally agree, and I think genre at the end of the day ages quite well too —if it’s a good movie. That’s one thing that I’m interested in too, the fact that we’re talking about how steeped this movie is in time in terms of the technology. We’re not sure if it’s now, or five years ago, or what, but I’m interested to see what this movie would look like 15 years from now and how it would be evaluated at that point.

Diabolique: In the light of the two sequels.

PB: Right, exactly [laughs]. Which people will go to see, right?

Keep an eye out for Creep, which is slated for a 2015 theatrical/digital release. Patrick’s next film, The Overnight, was announced last week as a selection for next month’s Sundance FF.

About Neil Young

Neil Young (b.1971) lives and works in his home town of Sunderland on England's north-east coast. A devotee of horror cinema since the mid-70s, he has reviewed films regularly for The Hollywood Reporter since 2008 and frequently contributes to a wide range of film-related outlets including Sight & Sound, Indiewire and Tribune (London). Director of the Bradford International Film Festival since 2011, he works as a consultant for several European film-festivals and has served on more than 20 juries including Cannes' Semaine de la Critique last year. His favorite horror films are The Fog, Don't Look Now and Suspiria.

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