Mark Duplass is only reason to see ‘Creep 2’

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Desiree Akhavan/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

It’s refreshing to see a horror movie where the evil villain isn’t a witch or a clown, but a New Age-y serial killer who drinks green smoothies and wears a ponytail with a black turtleneck. In “Creep 2,” this serial killer, Aaron, is played brilliantly by Mark Duplass, who possesses the perfect blend of eerily detached passion and calculated murderousness.

The film, presented as discovered camcorder footage, follows a YouTube vlogger named Sara (Desiree Akhavan) who responds to Aaron’s vague Craigslist ad requesting a videographer for a day and offering $1000 as compensation. When they meet at a remote house in the forest, Aaron confesses in an enthralling monologue that he is a serial killer who has lost his passion for the art of murder: “It was my religion. But now, it’s like a job.”

He asks Sara if she will help him make a documentary about himself — a magnum opus portrait into the soul of a murderer — and promises he will give her unflinching access to his mind. Driven by her desire for artistic excellence and undeterred by his murdering tendencies, she agrees, and what follows is a day of strange conversations, layers of trickery and intense manipulation between the two.

“Creep 2” is writer-director Patrick Brice’s sequel to his first film, “Creep,” which also starred Duplass as the titular bad-guy. The first “Creep” was an amateurish exercise in the found-footage genre (one can’t help comparing any found-footage horror film to “The Blair Witch Project,” which simultaneously popularized and perfected the genre). The only pleasure of the film was Duplass’s portrayal of the murderer as an overbearingly nice guy with a smile that’s slightly too wide — a literal manifestation of the cliché ‘to kill someone with kindness.’

The good news is that Brice has made a better film, although it suffers from many of the same shortcomings. For all of Duplass’s creepiness in the leading role, the movie lacks any terror. We feel more like removed spectators, watching the weirdness unfold but never feeling enveloped in the story.

It’s a horror film without the horror and a psychological thriller without the thrills.

“Creep 2” falls even flatter when it tries to meditate on artistry and journalism. In one scene, Aaron brings up a book he’s read, “The Journalist and the Murderer” by Janet Malcolm, while commentating on how Sara has manipulated some facts to ingratiate herself with him.

Why do films throw in overt references to book titles when trying to make a point? If the film really offered any insight into the journalist-subject relationship (it doesn’t), surely it would speak for itself and not require a heavy-handed reference to a text that describes the same thematic elements with much more nuance and elegance.

The beauty of Brice’s previous film, “The Overnight,” was in the utter simplicity of the plot, which unfolded naturally and displayed his keen sexual wit. The script, also penned by Brice, gave the talented cast room to breathe and develop the story. In “Creep 2,” Brice has tried to do too much.

His attempt to make a horror-art-comedy film has resulted in a somewhat creepy, moderately funny and intellectually derivative work with little to say about its stated themes of journalistic and artistic integrity.

In the end, the only thing Brice fully succeeds in doing is making an autobiography. He is Aaron, the artistically lost auteur (thankfully, Brice is a filmmaker and not an axe-murderer) aiming to make nothing less than a masterpiece. Stuffing so much into 80 minutes ensures the film is ultimately unsatisfying, and instead of offering an interesting resolution, Brice simply piles on more and more deceit until not only are we unsure who is lying and who is telling the truth, but we don’t care. “Creep 2” is worth seeing for Duplass’s performance and Duplass’s performance alone.

Contact Jack Wareham at [email protected].