Monday, May 26, 2014

Creep: What The Hell Am I Doing Here? I Don’t Belong Here

Movies aren't always obvious. Some things I’ll watch and immediately I know what I think - some movies leave very strong, clear impressions, for good or ill. Others, though, sneak up on me. I’ll find myself still thinking about them a day or two after watching them, and usually that’s a good thing. Even if it’s not the most technically accomplished, even if it has flaws, even if my immediate viewing experience wasn't strongly positive or negative, if it hangs around in my head, if it sticks in my craw, that’s a good thing. Well, usually. Sometimes I’ll run across something that doesn't make a big impact on me at first, but things will start to bug me about it upon further reflection. I don’t mean plot details, I’m not a big fan of “gotcha” criticism that insists on rigorous adherence to some clinical level of detail and consistency, though there’s certainly an audience for that sort of thing. No, this is more things like themes and imagery that leave kind of a bad taste, a lingering bitterness even when the initial experience was sort of bland and indifferent.

Creep is a good case in point. On the surface, it’s pretty by-the-numbers, but the more I think about the protagonist and the situations through which she’s driven, the less I like what it ends up being about in the end.

There’s a prologue involving two utility workers who find something amiss in the sewer tunnels under London, but it’s not really about them, as these prologues all too often aren't. It’s more there to set up the idea that there’s a Bad Thing and create a sense of foreboding, but I feel like it’s so pro forma at this point that there’s no foreboding at all. But anyway, the sewer workers are soon forgotten in favor of a party in full swing, navigated by our protagonist, Kate. Kate’s a sassy, fun-loving sort, as quick with a drink as a witty retort to the faintly oily coworkers who look at her with a barely disguised mixture of lust and contempt. Kate has no time for them, because she’s heard that George Clooney is in town, and a friend of hers knows where he’s staying, and she’s intent on bagging the handsome American movie star.

I know, it sounds really airheaded and shallow and like our protagonist is a ditzy party girl, but that’s because that’s exactly what she is, and this is where things start being a little problematic. See, Kate discovers that her friend has already left the party in a cab, leaving her hanging with no shot at Clooney, so she desperately hoofs it to a subway station to catch up. After some hassle trying to get a fare card, she manages to make it into the station with one train left for the night. A train which she promptly naps through, waking up alone in a locked and deserted tube station.

Well, not quite alone.

What follows is more or less the worst night of Kate’s life. That’s pretty much how it’s framed - the action is almost (though not entirely) on her and her interactions with others as she tries to get out of the tube station. She’s not alone down there, and some of the people she encounters mean her harm, and others don’t, but Kate barges her way through every interaction, asking other people to do stuff for her and throwing money at them as a way to get them to cooperate. It makes sense, she's speaking the only language she knows, but it rankles, and she doesn't really have a clearly defined character arc. In any given scene, she’s either helpless or surprisingly self-reliant, without a lot of actual growth or development. It just depends on what the scene requires. So that’s the first problem with the film - here’s our heroine, and she’s a bit of an unsympathetic mess.

Another big problem is pacing and rhythm - this movie sort of moves forward in a headlong rush, much like the characters, and because it doesn't really stop to breathe, a lot of moments for real tension and atmosphere are lost. There's a ton of potential in empty tube stations at night, in being lost and having something following you, but tension doesn't really escalate in this movie, it just sort of goes and goes and goes, with one group of people or another running screaming from something, and the mazelike nature of the tunnels in which the movie is set make it easy to lose any sense of location in time or space. This is too, because the idea of moving deeper and deeper into the earth, further and further down not just under London but into London's history as well, could build up tremendous tension and fear. Instead, the characters kind of blunder from one place to the next, and in at least one case it's highly improbable that someone would be able to be where they were in the first place, so it all seems sort of artificial. The soundtrack doesn't help either - the sound design itself is quite good, with metallic squeaks and scrapes and distant cries signaling that things aren't right, but it's overwhelmed by a soundtrack full of thuds and booms and clattering percussion that tells us THIS IS ALL VERY TENSE AND YOU SHOULD BE SCARED NOW. It all feels like they're trying way too hard, and need to give the story (and music) some room to breathe a little.

But those are just the obvious problems with the film. The less-obvious but more-worrisome problems come in with the interaction between the protagonist and antagonists. I use the plural even though the movie title is singular for a reason. See, the movie is called Creep, but I’m going to argue that it’s not really clear who the titular creep really is. On the one hand, we have the Bad Thing alluded to in the prologue, a near-feral cannibal left in the underground as the legacy of some forgotten piece of London’s history. So there’s the obvious villain, but then on the other hand you've got one of Kate’s coworkers, who against logic and narrative sense manages to follow her not just to the subway station but deep into the tunnels where he tries to rape her. So he’s a creep too, albeit one dispatched almost as soon as he’s introduced in what feels like a narratively pointless digression from the main story. Maybe the filmmakers felt like they needed a higher body count, I don’t know, but Kate gets menaced and manhandled by this dude long enough to establish that he’s not a nice guy and then he’s effectively taken out of the equation, which means he was just there in relation to Kate, not to the story itself.

And this is the crux of it - this film really feels less like it’s about people (or even one person) trying to survive in the face of some horrible predation, and more like it’s about punishing Kate at every turn for being her. She’s not sympathetic, she’s pretty much painted as a vain, shallow social climber whose only means of solving problems is throwing money at them, and she’s dragged through trial after trial - from minor indignities at the party to near-rape to near-cannibalization, and if this were a more typical Final Girl scenario, she’d come out the other end victorious, stronger for her ordeal. But that’s not how the film plays it - everything is resolved more or less as you’d expect - the worst thing I could say about this film otherwise is that it is competently handled, no more, no less - but Kate doesn't come out the other end anything like a victor. She is brought low, left sitting on a subway platform filthy and disheveled and mistaken for one of the homeless people from whom she buys a fare card at the start of the film. Here you are Kate, the film says, this is your place. The asshole coworker and the monster then exist not as threats to overcome, but as agents of punishment, means by which Kate may be deprived of her illusions about life and humbled. Is the creep the feral cannibal, the rapist coworker, or us, the audience, delighting in watching her cut down to size? Combined with some icky motherhood imagery elsewhere in the film, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth when it’s all over.

It’s too bad, because there are some good set pieces here and there - the way the film moves from the clean, modern Underground stations through layers and layers of London's old tube system and sewers is nicely creepy, leading us to an understanding of what exactly is chasing the protagonists that's just detailed enough to give us a basic idea, but not so detailed that we feel like we've just been given a huge chunk of unnecessary back story. In fact, the exposition is generally handled pretty neatly throughout. In the end, you sort of have to reveal the monster, and it's not bad, but once that happens the whole thing threatens to collapse into generic slasher territory as bad guy chases good guys and the whole thing gets increasingly gorier. It's reasonably well-shot, with color palettes that become increasingly sicklier and more dingy the deeper things go, but it all feels too unfocused. For a movie about movement - getting out, running away, climbing to the surface - it's surprisingly directionless. And that, combined with a mission statement that seems to be less “people try to survive something terrible” and more “watch this bitch get what’s coming to her” leaves me wondering what the point of any of it was supposed to be, or if I know what the point is and just don't like it.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Unavailable on Amazon Instant Video
Unavailable on Netflix Instant (Available on DVD)


  1. I love reading your reviews and appreciate the thoughtful insight. Thank you so much. When you have the chance, could you post a list of your favorite modern scarey movies? I recently saw Eden Lake and In Their Skin which I feel ahould be included in the category. Tightly scripted and suspensful to a point where my stomach tightened. Again thank you so much for this blog. Jason

  2. Thanks Jason, I appreciate it. I'm not one for lists normally, but I'll consider it. There are a lot of classics I haven't seen, but I think I could put something together. Thanks for reading!