CREEP and the Big Bad “C-Word”

creep

A lot of things change when you find out you’re dying. People who were mean to you decades ago will come out of the woodwork and try to make amends, everyone around you starts to handle you with kid-gloves, and perfect strangers will let you do whatever the hell you want. My family likes to call it “using the cancer card,” and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t whipped it out as the ultimate trump moment when people are being ignorant. When I was first introduced to Patrick Brice’s CREEP, I was given the synopsis provided by the production company: “Aaron answers an online ad and drives to a stranger’s house to film him for the day. The man wants to make a movie for his unborn child, but his requests become more bizarre as the day goes along.”

Never in that description did I ever once think that I was going to be smacked in the face with some truly gut-wrenching “I’m dying of cancer” monologues within the first 10 minutes of the film. I’ll be honest when I admit that I started welling up with tears during the “tubby time” scene, which would presumably be an uncomfortably funny scene for the average viewer. For someone like me, it hit me a lot harder than it probably should. When you’re dying, you start to lose it in ways that you never once imagined. I began fantasizing and recreating moments I thought I would never have the opportunity to experience (my wedding vows and my “approved” topics for my eulogy are saved in a word document), and I was fully aware of how crazy I was acting. I couldn’t help it, I thought I was going to be dead before I could legally rent a car. That’ll do weird stuff to your brain, and it will make you act way out of character.

The success of CREEP is the effectiveness of Mark Duplass’ “Josef” being, well, a total creep. His mental state is constantly presented ambiguously and we as the audience are constantly manipulated the way he manipulates his unsuspecting camera man, Aaron (played by director Patrick Brice). We’re constantly questioning whether or not Josef’s actions are sincere, or if he’s just a maniac. Hell, if his actions are sincere, does that make him just as crazy as it would if he was just screwing around? Regardless, Aaron still allows Josef in his life after numerous horrifically creepy actions. Why? Because the ambiguity of Josef potentially actually dying of cancer. Josef lies so often in this film it’s nearly impossible to detect what is fact and what is fiction, and even when he “comes clean,” we’re still left to figure out what to believe.

If Aaron’s treatment of Josef is a parallel for how we treat sick people, it begs the question whether or not we’re showing compassion or merely hoping that our kindness will make these people go away. The relationship between Aaron and Josef is a cancer itself, with Josef acting like a malignant tumor growing bigger and bigger as it overtakes Aaron’s life. It comes to a point where Aaron must make the decision to either cut Josef out, or “pray it away.” Aaron chooses to cut it out, but like a cancer, sometimes that isn’t enough to completely rid yourself of the disease. Josef is relentless, aggressive, and unwilling to go without a fight.

And like cancer, Josef isn’t malicious, it’s just the nature of his being.

Whether or not Josef really had cancer is irrelevant, because it proves the stigma and preconceived notion that most people have about the disease. Look, I’m not trying to downplay the severity of the disease (I had a 4% rate of survival. I know how severe cancer is), but I am not going to pretend that people don’t immediately treat you differently once you’re diagnosed. I’ve been given free meals, free haircuts, free oil changes, and received more Christmas cards this year than I have in my entire lifetime. I don’t ask for these things, people just hear that I had cancer and suddenly give me things no matter how hard I tell them it isn’t necessary. There’s an overwhelming power that comes along with having cancer, but it’s not the kind of power anyone wants. It’s the power of universal pity, and the familiarity society has with how truly evil the disease can be. What scares me the most about CREEP is not that Josef is a creepy and manipulative madman. No, what scares me is that Josef figured out the power of playing the cancer card and knowing deep down…

I have that power too.

 

CREEP is now streaming on Netflix Instant and other VOD platforms.