Good sequels are rare. Good horror sequels are even rarer. The problem with most sequels, especially in horror, is that they try to simply repeat the events of their parent film with only slight variations in structure. Their crime isn’t that they’re necessarily bad themselves, but that they have nothing new to say. When James Cameron agreed to write and direct the follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, he must have realized early in production that simply rehashing the space-slasher formula wouldn’t work. Instead, Cameron completely changed the genre from slow-burning space horror to action-packed war. As a result, his sequel Aliens was a massive success, proving to be a movie “bigger and better” in every way.
2014 saw the release of Creep, a low-budget indie horror flick made as a dual effort between writer-director Patrick Brice and actor Mark Duplass. The film followed Aaron (Patrick Brice), a naive videographer who responds to a Craigslist ad posted by the mysterious Josef (Mark Duplass). Josef explains to Aaron that he has a fatal brain disease, and claims he wants to make a home video for his unborn son to remember him by. Throughout the movie, Josef continues to act stranger and stranger, making Aaron and the audience increasingly more uncomfortable with his behavior. The film ended with the chilling, but not entirely unexpected reveal that Josef is actually a serial killer, and Aaron his latest victim. Creep 2, released just over a month ago, is a refreshingly unique horror sequel in that it doesn’t just aim to repeat the events of its predecessor with a fresh face, and is quite a bit like Aliens in this regard. As a result, it is a highly inventive, darkly hilarious, and thoroughly entertaining film that defies every expectation set by its genre and predecessor alike.
Creep 2 takes place some unspecified amount of time after the first, following Sara (Desiree Akhavan), a YouTuber who documents her experiences visiting lonely men she meets online. Discovering a new ad on Craigslist posted by Josef (who now takes the name Aaron), she agrees to meet him, believing this could be the breakthrough that pushes her show out of obscurity. Within minutes of meeting, Aaron, now sporting a mid-life crisis beard and ponytail, informs her he is a serial killer and that he wants her to film a documentary of him over 24 hours. In addition to the original $1,000 he agreed to pay her, he promises she will get unique insight into his mind without the fear of being murdered. Reluctantly, Sara agrees.
The decision to reveal Aaron’s true nature to Sara within minutes of their meeting is an unexpected move, but a smart one. As a sequel, Creep 2 faces the unique challenge of maintaining suspense while not simply retreading in the original’s steps with a fresh victim. By informing the audience that this will not be that kind of movie, Brice allows a new type of tension to start brewing immediately. We’re not on the edge of our seats because Mark Duplass is a stranger acting creepy; we’re nervous because we know who he is, and Sara is willingly putting herself into a room with him. It’s the same feeling you would get watching a zookeeper walk into a tiger’s cage.
Like the original Creep, the sequel is very much a two-man show, this time featuring Desiree Akhavan’s poker-faced hipster Sara instead of Brice’s gullible Aaron. In addition to the shift in tension, Sara’s personality is another refreshing way the sequel stands on its own legs. Wherever Brice’s character would have shied away, Sara remains steadfast, asking questions and digging deeper into Aaron’s personality. Akhavan is truly a charismatic match for Duplass; in some scenes, she actually seems to be in control of the situation.
Duplass’s Aaron is even more delightfully unhinged this time around, candidly sharing his violent exploits with sincere and childlike enthusiasm. It’s still unclear whether Duplass is completely honest at times, but seeing fragments of his true persona come through is even more frightening than being left guessing. His signature twist on the serial killer trope is compelling because he doesn’t appear to hold malice or ill-will towards his victims; on the contrary, he seems to genuinely love them like close friends. As Mark Duplass himself has said in an interview, his character “is someone who desperately wants to connect”, but just “happens to do it in a very unique way”. In other words, a creep.
Creep 2 is very much an experimental film, both in its structure and content. Whereas the first felt like a straight path from scene to scene glued together with improvised dialogue, there’s a not a moment in the sequel that gives the faintest impression of a script. This can feel rather aimless, but that is entirely the point, and the film is incredibly organic and lifelike as a result. The dramatic tension is stronger too, leaving the audience again perplexed by Aaron’s true intentions. Does he really not want to kill Sara? Is this really how he feels about being a serial killer? As the audience, we’re never given direct answers to these questions, but it’s definitely a fun ride guessing them.
A significant chunk of the experimental side of the film is seen in its self-awareness. Perhaps the most self-referential statement the film makes as a sequel is found with its jump scares. In the original, Duplass’s Josef made a habit of gleefully jumping in front of Brice’s character to startle him. Every time Aaron attempts it here though, Sara shrugs it off and asks if he’s done fooling around. It’s almost as if Sara is a direct stand-in for the audience in these moments. We’ve already seen Mark Duplass run circles around some poor sap until he’s petrified, and as thrilling as that was, we don’t want or need to see that again. It’s true that the sequel is never overtly scary like the original was, but it’s not even trying to be. Like Aliens, the film makes marked shifts in genre and tone, and it’s a fascinating exercise in pushing the limits of the horror genre.
While I genuinely enjoyed the original Creep, it never escaped the realm of being an above-average scare flick for me. Creep 2, on the other hand, is one of the most subtly meta and original films I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in recent memory. From sly quips about the filmmaking process to the defying of horror tropes to its magnetic performances, it’s a great piece of low-budget cinema. While I may have been more creeped out by the original, Creep 2 is a far superior film in every other way. It’s an intense confrontation between a girl completely out of her depth and evil incarnate, and a brilliant example of the heights indie film can soar to with just two actors willing to risk it all. It will most certainly please fans of the original, but also anyone looking to see a new and refreshing spin on the genre. With plans to make a third and final film on the horizon, I for one cannot wait to see what twisted concoction this duo dreams up next.