Posts Tagged ‘Mark Duplass’

Everyone from casual horror fans to hard-core “found footage” aficionados was sufficiently impressed with co-writer/co-star/director and co-writer/co-star Mark Duplass’ 2014 indie horror effort Creep — this armchair critic included — to form a sort of impromptu “whisper campaign” in its favor that saw it end up punching well above its weight class and really leaving a strong and distinct mark among the always-bulging throng of low-budget horror offerings overpopulating the various streaming services we’ve all come to rely on to meet our entertainment “needs” on a monthly basis. It became, in short, a nice little success story. But I’m not sure that anyone — even, and perhaps especially, Brice and Duplass themselves — figured that an honest-to-God sequel would ever be in the offing. And yet here we are, three (okay, closer to four now) years later,  and Creep 2 is upon us — backed by Netflix and Blumhouse financing, no less.

Don’t fret, though — this is still very much a bare-bones effort shot on HD video with limited sets, an even more limited cast, and a decidedly “faux-amateur” vibe throughout. Brice’s videographer character Aaron is dead, of course, but his name lives on, assumed by Duplass, who had been calling himself “Josef” last time out, but seems to shift identities as easily as he does frames of mind. Since you can’t have a movie with just him, though (or, hell, maybe you could), the secondary, “foil” role in this one is filled by Desiree Akhavan as would-be  documentarian/struggling YouTube host Sara, whose show, entitled “Encounters,” is saddled with single-digit numbers of “hits” for most episodes. Her shtick is responding to weird or fetishistic online personal ads, and she’s looking for something really special for her self-declared “season finale,” but the minute she hooks up with Josef/Aaron/Whatever, she knows she’s very possibly in over her head — or is she? It’s always so fucking hard to tell with this guy.

Right off the bat “Aaron” confesses to being a serial killer — the most prolific one no one has ever heard of, in fact — albeit one who has lost his passion for his “vocation” and is ready to spill his guts prior to hanging up the “Peachfuzz” mask and either retiring or, uhhhhmm, retiring in a more permanent sense, but Sara struggles throughout the film to decide whether or not he’s simply full of shit. We know what’s up, of course, but that’s a big part of the fun here and gives this sequel a frisson of underlying tension the first one just plain didn’t have — and up-and-coming filmmakers would do well to take note of this rather ingenious method for keeping audiences on their toes even when the element of the utterly unfailiar that the first flick in a series has is removed from the equation by default. When your premise becomes a known quantity, use that knowledge to your advantage.

Sara’s hungry, that’s for sure, and figures she can’t lose either way here — if dude’s a real killer, she’s got the scoop of a lifetime, and if he’s just some nutcase who gets off on pretending to be a killer, then that’s still gonna make for some compelling viewing, too, right? It certainly makes for compelling viewing for us — and Duplass is, again, all kinds of dangerous and disarming and charismatic. He’s stripping buck naked for Sara one minute, dodging even fairly straight-forward questions the next, keeping her wildly off-guard at all times. Not that she shows it, mind you — Akhavan is a superb actress who puts on a mask of jaded near-nonchalance no matter what, and parries the metaphorical blows of Duplass’ “Aaron” with a kind of resigned “got anything new for me?” coolness that not only allows her to stand toe to toe with him, but literally gives her the upper hand on many occasions. It’s definitely a new and interesting dynamic when contrasted with the prior film , watching Duplass in the “uneasy” position, trying to impress his co-star.

Gaining his confidence, though — that’s another matter, and one Sara struggles with figuring out how to navigate. To call “Aaron” simply “mercurial” would be to sell the nature of his all-over-the-map mental landscape short. He gets his jollies out of fucking with people, keeping them off-guard, but when his act is up against a careful pose of un-flappability, he ups the ante considerably. How do you shock someone who can’t seem to muster up any sense of surprise? Well, he figures out how to do it eventually, and it works — but when he gets back into his more comfortable position as the guy holding the cards, that’s when events steamroll toward a “triple-whammy” conclusion that leads you to wonder who’s going to kill who. Then wondering it again. And again. And again. Hell, even when they both appear to be dead, or as good as, there’s no punctuation mark on anything until the credits roll.

I can’t help but feel, though, that even then we’re still in no way out of the woods. Some may view this as a natural ending point for the series given how shit plays out, but in truth the finale points to some quite intriguing possibilities for things to move forward, should Brice and Duplass choose to make a genuine franchise out of their little concept. A third installment would be vastly different to either the first or the second for reasons I’ll refrain from “spoiling,” but this is a premise I’d definitely love to see explored even further.  Watch Creep 2 on Netflix and I’m fairly certain you’ll agree with me.

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Now that Halloween has come and gone, and I can safely venture out of Netflix’s mostly-lackluster horror queue into other areas without feeling like I’m slacking off on my (unpaid) “responsibilities,” I’m finding that there are actually a few interesting things available to stream at the moment, and one of the first things that caught my eye when I wandered into the “indie” section was a Kickstarter-funded (to the tune of approximately $40,000) effort that was lensed earlier this very year and saw release onto so-called “home viewing platforms” on October 6th called Manson Family Vacation, the brainchild of writer/director J. Davis working in conjunction (to one degree or another) with  brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, who are making something of a name for themselves in the world of low-budget independent cinema.

Mark — who recently did a bang-up job in the movie Creep — doesn’t seem to have much of a direct stake in the goings-on here, but Jay is one of the two main stars of the film, and their production house is listed prominently in the credits, so, whether fairly or not, this is a flick that’s been associated with both of them from the outset and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future even if the chief “creative vision” here is, in fact, somebody else’s altogether.

Is that enough by way of preamble? I kinda think it is, so let’s talk about the movie.

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Nick (played by Duplass) is a successful lawyer and devoted family man who hasn’t seen his “black sheep” brother, Conrad (Linas Phillips) in years, and while it’s not entirely fair to say that the two are “estranged,” Conrad’s free-wheeling, perpetually-unemployed ways don’t exactly fit in with Nick’s uptight uber-conservative lifestyle. All that changes, though, when the scruffy brother turns up at the buttoned-down one’s doorstep and convinces him to take a few days off work so that they can check out the sites associated with the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders. And we’re not just talking about the houses where the shit went down here — Conrad, a genuine Manson devotee, is determined to visit other, more obscure locales, such as the restaurant where Sharon Tate ate her last meal and the various desert encampments where Charlie and his “family” set up shop prior to attracting the attention of L.A. county sheriff’s deputies. Yes, friends, our resident “true believer” is on a good old-fashioned pilgrimage here, with Nick along for the ride to make sure he doesn’t get into too much trouble.

Tonally, Davis tends to bob and weave between trying to play the entire absurd scenario for laughs, and making less-than-subtle statements about who the real “success story” in the family is — Conrad, who for all his obvious faults is at least free to follow his own (admittedly warped) muse, or Nick, who brings home a nice income, but is apparently a bit hen-pecked by his wife, Amanda (Leonora Pitts), and can’t seem to figure out how to relate to his young son, Max (Adam Chernick). We’ve seen this theme explored countless times before in “buddy” movies, of course, but it takes on an extra level of weird when the “outsider” of the pair is obsessed with one of history’s most infamous criminals.

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Things take an even sharper turn for the bizarre, though,  once our “odd couple on bad acid” make the acquaintance of one Blackbird (played by Saw himself, Tobin Bell), and it becomes apparent that what we all thought we knew about the so-called “Manson Family” is very far from the actual truth — and while it would be unfair to say that the film’s last act is a straight-up “thriller,” tried-and-true “thriller” elements do, in fact, make their presence felt as events careen toward a genuinely out-of-left-field conclusion that I promise you won’t see coming. The entire ride is definitely a bumpy one with, sorry to say, far more lows than highs, but Manson Family Vacation does at least manage to more or less redeem itself thanks to very solid lead performances and a heckuva balls-y final twist.

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Still, I can imagine that a fair number of right-thinking individuals will probably have checked out of this one long before Davis finally gets around to sticking the knife in, and I can’t really say that I’d blame anyone for doing so —- this is a movie that will surely try your patience at times before ultimately rewarding it. If you’re more the sort of viewer who enjoys a story that clearly knows what it’s doing from the outset, this probably won’t be your cup of tea. But if you’re willing to stick it out as Davis finds his footing, I think you’ll be happy that you did so.

Obviously, I can only give Mason Family Vacation a (very) qualified recommendation, but I think its young director is, in fact, qualified to keep going and to be allowed enough leeway to find his niche as a filmmaker. There’s a reasonably authentic voice at work here, and if Davis can avoid some of the pitfalls he succumbs to this time around in future efforts, I think he’s got a fairly bright future ahead of him traversing America’s dark underbelly.

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What’s the next line in that song? Oh, yeah — “what the hell am I doing here?”

Spoiler alert : I kinda wondered that myself for the last two minutes or so of Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass’s 2014 indie horror (now streaming on Netflix even before it hits Blu-ray and DVD) Creep, but that was only after thoroughly digging the first 80-or-so  minutes a lot more.

Yes, folks, we’re back on the “found footage” train here, and with a distinctly limited cast of characters, at that — in fact, just two. Brice (who co-wrote the script) stars as “millenial looking for a buck” freelance cameraman Aaron, while Duplass (who not only co-wrote, but directs here) is Josef, who has enticed him with a $1,000 cash offer to come to his cabin up north in order to , he says, document an average day in his life for his as-yet-unborn son or daughter to watch later —ya see, they won’t be around to watch their old man in action because he’ll be dead by the time they figure out how to work a television (which, I’m reliably informed, is at the age of about two).

Josef, even if it’s only by his own account, beat cancer once already, but the chemo has “given” him an inoperable brain tumor — which is doubly inconvenient when your wife’s pregnant, I guess — and now he finds himself with only a few months to live. Still, he’s determined to let his progeny get to know him (albeit by video proxy) even if he’ll never get to know them.

Sounds kinda touching, right? But when Josef strips naked for the camera and gets into the bathtub to re-enact something called “tubby time” that he apparently did with his own father as an infant, we get our first sign that things are gonna go off the rails here. And do they ever. Simply put, we get a pretty clear idea that Josef is one freaky customer with, by his own admission, “a fucked up sense of humor,” well before he introduces us to his lion-masked (at least I think it’s a lion — even if they’re not usually black) alter-ego, “Peachfuzz.”

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Aaron survives the physically and mentally rigorous  day-which-becomes-a-night (barely), but once he gets home and Josef tries to “make amends” for things going batshit crazy, well — they go even batshit crazier. A low-grade campaign of stalking ensues, that eventually wears down our protagonist to the point where he agrees to meet, one final time, with the guy who’s way too fucking desperate to be his “friend,” and — ah, but that would be telling.

Creep is definitely an unusual beast, to put it mildly, with no real violence (much less blood n’ guts) until the very end  and barely even any swearing to speak of, but the bizarre homo-erotic undercurrents and profoundly, if quietly, disturbing psychodrama will be more than enough to disabuse you of the notion that you’ve turned on some cleverly-disguised “Christian horror” flick by accident. Most of the tension here — and there’s a lot of it — is very understated, but no less powerful for its low-key delivery. “Found footage” or “mockumentary” horror has its up and downs in general, of course, but here the immediacy and naturalism of the whole (admittedly overplayed) “shaky-cam” shtick work to the material’s advantage (producer Jason Blum, who released this under the auspices of his wretchedly-named “BlumHouse Tilt” sub-label, certainly having plenty of experience in the field) and you quickly come to realize why shooting this conventionally just wouldn’t work.

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That ending, though — that just doesn’t/couldn’t work under any circumstances. It’s not the plot twist itself that I mind — that’s reasonably effective, even if a bit predictable in comparison to the rest of the film, which does a much better job of keeping you both guessing and consistently off-guard. But the suspension of disbelief required as Aaron sits there for an interminable length of time waiting for Josef to — ah, shit, spoilers again. Let’s just say that it really lets the side down and leave it at that.

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All of which leaves your humble armchair critic here with a bit of a conundrum : did I enjoy  this thing despite its ending, did I enjoy it except for its ending, or did I end up failing to enjoy it because of its ending?

That’s a question I really can’t answer right now. But I don’t think I’d be opposed to watching Creep again a few months down the road in order to form a more definitive opinion. And maybe that tells you something right there.