A couple of years ago I wrote an editorial defending the much-maligned found-footage sub-genre, making the argument that these movies are conceptually similar to epistolary story-telling in literature, and that this filmmaking technique would eventually find its footing, possibly through some future cinematic achievement that could only have been reached through the conventions of found-footage. After all, film is still a young medium, and we still have a millennia to go before we’ve explored every possible way of making a good movie.
Since that article, we’ve seen everything from a surprise sequel to the king of found-footage, Blair Witch, to Found Footage 3D, a loving parody of the sub-genre. While I definitely enjoyed several of these movies, I think it’s fair to say that none of them were innovative enough to truly change the way that we perceive this kind of film, even though they don’t necessarily have to be in order to be entertaining.
Nevertheless, a few weeks ago I watched Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass’s Creep 2, and after letting the film sink in for a bit, I’m now convinced that the cinematic holy grail of found-footage is much closer than I thought, and here’s why…
The first Creep was released back in 2014 to surprisingly positive reviews, and I’d rank it as one of the best found-footage flicks to come out of the past few years. The film’s simple yet fascinating take on boundaries and interpersonal relationships resonated with viewers, and since then Mr. PeachFuzz the supposedly “friendly” wolf has become something of a celebrity in the horror community. Although the movie has its fair share of flaws (with some segments dragging on a bit too long), the clever script and Duplass’ now-iconic performance reminded us that talent and creativity can overcome nearly any limitations when telling a compelling story.
Through several interviews with both Brice and Duplass, it was revealed that the simplicity of found-footage was what allowed them to take risks and experiment while crafting the movie that eventually became Creep. From improvised dialogue, alternate scenes and even different endings, the duo was able to pick and choose the best material to tell the story at hand, and resulting in a captivating thriller with only two characters and a single camera.
When Creep 2 was announced, I, like many others, was extremely skeptical. A lot of what made the first movie work depended on that surprise ending, and it seemed like the sequel was just going to rehash the first film’s premise minus the rising tension. However, when it finally came out, I was blown away by an incredibly self-aware story, mesmerizing characters and the overall creativity behind nearly every aspect of this simple yet elegant production.
Not only is Creep 2 one of my favorite movies of 2017, but if we’re lucky, it might also be the start of a shift in the way that filmmakers use found-footage to tell a story. This is one of those elusive cases where a movie simply would not be as interesting or as impactful had it been shot and edited like a traditional cinematic thriller, as the found-footage aesthetic is absolutely vital in conveying this story’s message.
The film is a groundbreaking achievement in minimalist filmmaking, and part of that is due to Brice’s understanding of how telling a good story with fewer tools and resources than usual should inherently require more effort in other departments to compensate, not less. By stripping away most modern filmmaking conventions and focusing on the two amazing leads, Creep 2 has more in common with a live stage show than a traditional horror movie, and that’s a good thing. This is one particular story that only benefits from the less-is-more approach, showing us only the most essential elements of the story, and stripping away the rest.
Of course, the found-footage aspect also lends the film a kind of intimacy with these characters, not to mention a heightened sense of believability. Despite what many moviegoers claim, realism isn’t necessarily as important to maintain the illusion of found-footage flicks as consistency. Most films in the genre falter by trying to make the footage as realistic as possible, with little regard to how much story is actually being told, and then later resort to “cheating,” by artificially telling us parts of the story that couldn’t be conveyed organically earlier. This is what turns the found-footage aesthetic into an obstacle rather than a tool for telling more unique stories.
This pre-occupation with realism only really ever worked with The Blair Witch Project, but that was before general audiences became aware of the trickery going on behind the scenes. There’s also the fact that the Blair Witch phenomena was more of a multi-media event, featuring complementary experiences and mythology that went way beyond the movie itself, resulting in a much broader and more sustainable suspension of disbelief.
Luckily for us, much like the first film, Creep 2 does things differently by being one of the rare Blair Witch Project successors that relishes in the home-movie aesthetic without being utterly consumed by it. The movie even incorporates the eventual compiling, editing and presentation of this footage into the plot itself. The story’s real strength lies in its compelling character interaction and disturbing subtext, with the found-footage aspect being a narrative tool instead of the film’s focus, which is really the direction that newer productions in this genre should be heading towards.
Surprisingly enough, my point here isn’t to just gush about how much I loved Creep 2 (though it’s likely that I’ll only ever stop when the third film in this planned trilogy finally comes out), but to state that the bar for found-footage movies has been raised, and it seems that us fans of the genre are at a cinematic crossroads. We can either continue on a path of mostly shallow and overtly familiar films, or be inspired by masters of the craft like Brice and Duplass. If other genre filmmakers are taking notes (and I certainly hope that they are), it’s only a matter of time before we see more creative and entertaining gems pop up in this vastly underestimated sub-genre.
After all, Sara loves her Juicy-Fruit, and we love our found-footage movies.