I won’t easily admit to being one to be star-stuck but let’s just say I have developed a life-long BFF crush on Jason Schwartzman. From his debut in Wes Anderson’s electric Rushmore (and onward through a certifiable library of Anderson films) to his cult HBO amateur detective comedy Bored to Death to his truly standout indie-rock band Coconut Records (seriously, listen to them. They’re great) I would count myself amongst the Schwartz’s dedicated fanboys. Having the chance to speak with him not once, not twice but three times over a weekend proved my long-time suspicion: the dude is also an incredibly nice guy. Read More
Going into 2014’s SXSW, Patrick Brice was an unknown entity, opening the door for the horror knockout that was Creep. With Mark Duplass and an HD camera, Brice made one of the year’s best horror films with little to no dollar bills. All the more impressive is his follow-up, the hilarious and heartfelt The Overnight. With a bigger cast, more money, a formalized script and a sprig of confidence, Brice set out to out-do himself in every way possible. I sat down with Patrick for this two-part discussion of what is easily one of my favorites of the year. Join us as we talk about the transformation from first time director to Sundance sparkler, his desire to dip his toe into thrillers, the responsibility of doing bigger and better projects, pushing the boundaries of comedy, the potential of horror movies and those infamous penis prosthetics.
Last year, Patrick Brice showed up to SXSW with Creep. Devilishly crafty and expertly focused, it fell in with the usual suspects of found footage horror, even though it was so much more than just another point and shoot, “gotcha!” scare effort. The natural tension that Brice was able to tease out of a scene – the inherent discomfort and overarching ambiguity of character relations – made for a plucky and generously bewitching offering of horror comedy.
Everything that Brice was able to achieve with Creep has been honed and amplified with The Overnight. Equally as reigned in character-wise – aside from a kiddy duo, there are only four principals – and pumped to the brim with laugh out loud comedy, it’s a singularly optimal amalgamation of talent in front of and behind the camera.
Adam Scott (Parks and Recreations) and Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) are recent LA transplants, here from Seattle on untold business. Scott’s Alex is a stay-at-home-dad with a small penis (it’s literally the first thing brought up in the film and yes, we eventually behold his itty bitty guy in full prosthetic glory) while Schilling’s Emily is a working professional. In the midst of concern that they won’t be able to land new friends in the deep blue sea that is Los Angeles, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) arrives on the scene barking about gummy worm health detriments and boasting of his child’s “all vegan” diet. He’s joking but Schwartzman’s native ability to be a stuck-up shmoozer loser could have sold this character the whole way through. In no time, he’s won over the rainy city couple, tempting them into meeting up later that night with promises of a pizza playdate for their boys that’ll doubles as their chance to make new friends.
In the garish fortress that is this mystery couple’s home, Alex and Emily find themselves cautiously seduced by Kurt and Charlotte’s (Judith Godrèche) breezy, Euro charm. The resulting tension courts thriller elements but never really pushes too close to the edge what with all its healthy dousing of eruptive comedy. Over the course of the evening, the players find themselves steadily breaking out of their comfort zones as the libations are poured, divulging deeper and darker secrets in conjunction with the increasing number of bong rips they slug. From Kurt and Charlotte going full frontal for a skinny dip to popping on an explicit (and niche) DVD, Brice flirts with the idea of crossing the line without ever drawing one definitively in the sand. With incriminating evidence piling up, the dial points to a strong likelihood of swinger-dom and Emily and Alex must decide how to proceed in this uncommonly racy situation.
Brice plays it cool though, creating a rich thematic dichotomy by implying something that might or might not be there. We find ourselves siding with the increasing suspicions of Emily though are equally willing to fall in line with Alex’s assumptions of this just being the “freewheelin’ California lifestyle”. Even more so than in Creep, we can never be certain of who exactly these people are and how roguish their intentions.
To chalk the whole film up to a feeling of uncertainly though misses the forest for the trees as this is through and through a brash, hysterical comedy. It just so happens that it’s that rare comedy with layers.
Each member of the cast fires their comedy shots with dynamic aptitude with Scott breaking new territory as a low-key but totally game fidgeter and Schilling playing incredulous like a weary jailbird. The undersung Godrèche is perfectly difficult to read as Schwartzman in the pole comedy position absolutely steals the show. From his equestrian-like male member (another prosthetic) to his general nonchalant demeanor, he chomps through his scenes like a horse to a bit.
The final result is both articulate and insightful, an uncommonly honest look at adult sexuality and the bargaining chips that married couples exchange. It’s also f*cking hilarious. Working from a much more finalized script (Creep was predominately ad-libbed), Brice proves his talent as a writer as well as a director and if he continues to pound out such accomplished work, he’ll be amongst the foremost directors worth of our anticipation.
At the premiere of his debut horror/thriller Creep, director and star Patrick Brice took to the stage to put some A’s to some Q’s and give some context for his found-footage creeper. But Brice’s film;s greatest accomplishment lies in the performance eeked from Mark Duplass. He’s magnetic, unpredictable and an absolute joy to watch. From our review,
“No matter how valiant his intentions sound on paper, Joseph (Duplass) is an unreliable character from the get go. From his startling first appearance to the unsavory wolf mask, ironically called Peach Fuzz, he keeps stuffed in his closet, he’s a hard guy to get a read on. But that’s half the fun. Throttling between waxing on his own mortality and jumping from behind a doorway to startle Patrick (and by extension us), one thing is for certain: Joseph’s a weird dude. He’s always quick on his toes to offer some soundbite explanation for his abnormal actions but his backstory is about as reliable and consistent as Heath Ledger‘s Joker.”
Revealing his long standing friendship with co-star Duplass, Brice talked stalker behavior, the colloborative nature of Creep and how he went from an artsy filmmaker to directing a found footage horror movie. Read on to hear all he had to say.
How did you get Mark involved in the film?
Patrick Brice: Mark Duplass and I are close friends. I just graduated from Cal Arts film school in 2011. He was kind of mentoring me and trying to figure out what the next project would be. We’d talked about working together on something. This project came out of those conversations. He just said, “Why don’t we go do something together?” So we went up to a cabin in the woods for five days and filmed an initial cut of this movie and ended up showing it to friends, doing some test screenings with filmmaker buddies – kind of refining it and toning it into the film that it is now. Eventually Jason Blum, from Blumhouse, watched the film, liked it, and agreed to kind of help us make it a little darker.
When you were writing it, was it tempting to turn it more into comedy and change the ending? Or did you know that you wanted it like this?
PB: We had no idea. There was like seven different versions of that ending. And I’m sorry I’m totally low blood sugar today. I’ve only eaten tacos for a meal. I can’t (EDITED FOR SPOILERS). I’m having an existential crisis. There was sort of a weird test, because we knew we wanted it to be funny and Mark’s insanely funny and gifted with improv. Jason saw it and was like, “You guys, this is teetering on the edge. Let’s bring this a little more into the realm of darkness.” It’s kind of a weird balance but hopefully it will work for some people.
Your movie reminds me of someone I know. I’m not even kidding.
PB: Mark and I, we love weird people and we love people that you can’t really get a serious beat on. We also are both the type of dudes who end up being friends with those people. This was kind of our exploration into that.
His behavior was kind of textbook stalker. How much research did you do on stalking behaviors and stuff like that?
PB: I didn’t do research whatsoever. One discussion we did have was talking about people we’ve known in our lives who are like pathological liars – just thinking about traits of those type of people and trying to express that.
I find it thrilling, because it’s clearly so stripped down and just like you have a great idea and a great story. You made it happen. I would love to hear what you shot on. Was it literally you and Mark? Did you have a small crew?
PB: We had a small crew and actually one of them is here, Chris Donlon, our editor. This guy’s a story genius and we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did, without him. We shot it on one of these Panasonic cameras that compresses to a small card. It was a great exercise for me. Coming out of film school, I was like, “I’m going to make very defined, formal films.” This was just like throwing that all by the wayside and saying, “Let’s just go run completely on instinct, and forget about aesthetic as much as we can and just try to make something that’s compelling and focused on characters.”
Were you holding the camera the whole time?
PB: Yeah. It was either me or Mark holding the camera the entire time.
How much of this do you guys do in tandem? Did you direct each other?
PB: Yeah. The film was a collaboration. When Mark was on screen, I was directing him and when I was on screen, he was directing me. Neither of us had any ego with that sort of thing. A lot of these takes were initially six or seven minute takes that have been cut up. So we would just run each take. We didn’t have a script. We had a ten page outline, we were just improvising all the dialogue, so we would run one of these takes, watch it, figure out camera placement and what we should say when, go back and do it over and over again. Because it was just a small group of us, we could do that.
Were you developing the characters as you went along?
PB: I had never acted before, so I was relying on Mark in terms of what was working and what was not. It’s super hard to be objective when you’re directing yourself. We kind of went scene by scene. It was a story we develop, in reaction to whatever nuances happened in the last thing we shot. We shot it all in continuity. But we still have that outline that was like, “This needs to happen within these parameters.”
All the paintings of the wolves, who did those?
PB: My best friend since I was 11 years old, his mom did all those. She just paints multiples of those wolves. That’s like what she does. I was so happy I got to include them. That’s something we used to always make fun of his mom about when we were kids. Now it’s like, “Jason, can I get like 50 of those paintings?”
I love how the end opens up all these side possibilities of what happens before and what happens after. One of the things I’m wondering about Mark Duplass’s character is: when you were developing a backstory for him, does he have a similar approach to all his victims? Does he take them all to the heart springs? Is this something you talked about at all?
PB: No. Not really. I think there’s a world of possibilities there. I don’t think he’s done this before. In my mind I like to think that he has something special for each person. Or maybe he doesn’t (SPOILER) everybody. Maybe it takes a special someone, to want to (SPOILER) them.
How did the concept for the movie come about?
PB: At first this movie was like a relationship movie, I guess. We weren’t necessarily thinking that it was going to go as far as it did, in terms of evil. We wanted it to be a balance between the two of us. I do think there’s something wrong with Aaron. Don’t do that.
Directed by Patrick Brice
Starring Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Comedy, Horror, Romance
Mark Duplass has had quite a run in the fledgling stages of his career. From small roles in the likes of Oscar baity films, such as Zero Dark Thirty and, le sigh, Parkland, to larger roles in unsung indie hits Humpday and Safety Not Guaranteed, and simply as the reliably affable straight man, Pete, on The League, it’s easy to admit that Duplass has got range. He dips his toes in the pools of all different genres and mediums, working as an accomplished dramatic actor and solid comedian to boot. It’s then such a surprise that perhaps the greatest work he’s done is in a found little footage horror movie called Creep.
Captured in what has become the oh so familiar first person POV framework, Patrick Brice takes on dual responsibility as the film’s lead and director. He is our window into the events to unfold, a fluctuating moral guide through a stew of character grays. Brice is Aaron, a videographer gun-for-hire who responds to a mysterious Craigslist ad claiming it will take one day of his time and pay a cool grand. Up in the mountains, he meets a Joseph, a man with claims of imminent death, making a farewell video for his unborn son.
No matter how valiant his intentions sound on paper, Joseph (Duplass) is an unreliable character from the get go. From his startling first appearance to the unsavory wolf mask, ironically called Peach Fuzz, he keeps stuffed in his closet, he’s a hard guy to get a read on. But that’s half the fun. Throttling between waxing on his own mortality and jumping from behind a doorway to startle Patrick (and by extension us), one thing is for certain: Joseph’s a weird dude. He’s always quick on his toes to offer some soundbite explanation for his abnormal actions but his backstory is about as reliable and consistent as Heath Ledger‘s Joker.
Brice and Duplass love playing with the idea of the unreliable narrator as they fill the film with palpable moments of transitioning allegiances. There are times when Duplass feels like the titular creep, other times when it’s Brice. There’s even some fleeting moments where we turn the mirror on ourselves to see if we’re the ones prescribing oddness to an otherwise savory and sweet situation. Could there actually be nothing wrong at all (save our unsavory expectations?) What am I talking about, this is a movie called Creep, of course some creeping is bound to go down. And go down it does.
When a film backs itself into a corner like Creep does about sixty minutes in, it usually becomes increasingly reliant on familiar tropes. The fringes of possibility become a picket fence and the audience is able to pick off the thread count like floating sheep. There are only so many ways to wrap things up in a horror movie and we usually know which of those endings will transpire when we’ve got about thirty minutes to go. But when Creep seems like its reaches the last track, it smartly changes things up, transforming from what may have dissolved into an unsatisfying slasher into a whole new type of paranoid tension machine.
From his backlit framing to the long, empty, awkward silences that fill the air like smog, Brice plants all the seeds of doubt required to make his audience want to stand up and shout “Don’t go in there!” at the screen. Thankfully, his characters are rarely dumb enough to go the way of the slasher victim. It may not subvert the horror genre, but at least it doesn’t sink down to its level. And though Brice does his fair share of leaning on genre mainstays to milk some frights, he remains true to his characters throughout and they’re what made it interesting in the first place.