The film Creep (also available on Netflix) is absolutely one of my favorite movies in the horror genre. My girlfriend introduced me to a couple years ago. I remain fascinated by its low-budget, quirky weirdness, and I think there are some solid survival and defense lessons from Creep. Let’s take a look at them!
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BE WARNED: this article contains spoilers!!! I ruin the whole movie here. If you haven’t seen Creep yet I strongly recommend you close this article, watch the movie, then come back to the article. It’s a short movie, only 77 minutes. There’s no supernatural stuff and the only monster is the human kind. You’ll really be depriving yourself of a good movie if you let me spoil it.
I honestly never though that I would issue a spoiler alert on this blog. I’m not a movie reviewer (I have terrible taste in film) and I don’t plan to become one, but this might be fun. Let’s find out, shall we?
Creep: Act 1
Creep is a found-footage, psychological horror centered around two characters, Aaron and Josef. In fact, these are the only people you see for the entire film. Aaron is a starving, independent videographer. He has been hired by Josef via Craigslist for a day of filming. Josef claims he has an inoperable brain tumor and wants footage of himself for his unborn son.
The film opens with Aaron driving to and arriving at Josef’s rural cabin. After Josef explains what he is looking for, Aaron makes his first mistake. Josef pays him $1,000, in cash, up front, for the day of filming. Aaron accepts. After shooting some video at the cabin Josef takes Aaron on jaunt through the woods in search of a heart-shaped swimming hole. Josef is extremely erratic throughout the filming, which Aaron probably chalks up to the brain tumor.
After the jaunt in the woods Josef tells Aaron it’s time to eat. He says he knows a place with the best pancakes ever. However once they get to the restaurant Josef makes a comment that indicates he’s never been there. While eating Josef convinces Aaron to confess to something embarrassing or shameful. Aaron does, then Josef then confesses to taking surreptitious photos of Aaron.
Lesson 1: Listen to Your Inner Voice
There were several times when Josef used manipulative behavior. First, when he paid Aaron up front he created a sense of indebtedness. Aaron needed the money so I understand the impulse to accept right away. In doing so Josef was able to convince Aaron to spend more time with him, and to do stuff with which he should have been uncomfortable.
When you saw that axe out in front of the house, was there a small part of you that thought I might kill you with it?
As anyone who has seen the movie doubtlessly remembers, Aaron is also asked what he thought when the saw the axe at Josef’s house. Josef asks, “When you saw that axe out in front of the house, was there a small part of you that thought I might kill you with it?” Here Josef was “leaking” a little bit of information about his intentions.
Listen to your inner voice. Be alert for manipulative behavior in others, especially strangers. Always be cautious when a stranger wants to pay you upfront with no clearly-defined terms or start/end. Pay attention when someone’s true intentions “leak.” Aaron probably knew something was up, but he failed to heed his inner voice.
To be more aware of this inner voice and cultivate it, read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Lesson 2: Don’t Excuse Lies
Aaron also should have listened to the little voice he no doubt heard when he realized Josef had never been to the pancake restaurant. Josef claimed to have grown up going to this place, yet when they arrived he said, “let’s see what’s good here.”
Aaron called him on it and said, “it’s the pancakes, right? Didn’t you say you used to come here with your family?” He called Josef out but then accepted his lame excuse for why he needed to look at the menu. Aaron knew something was up but chose to let it slide to avoid confrontation.
When you are in a vulnerable position, don’t excuse, overlook, or justify lies. Recognize lies for what they are: an attempt to deceive you. Seriously question why you are being lied to.
To get better at recognizing lies I highly recommend Spy the Lie by Phillip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero.
Creep: Act 2
The next scene shows Aaron and Josef arriving back at the cabin. Aaron clearly wants to leave but Josef convinces him to stay, leaning on the emotionally-manipulative techniques he put into play earlier. Aaron acquiesces and goes inside for a drink. Josef tells Aaron a really disturbing story (you remember the one).
That evening Josef pushes Aaron to stay at the cabin after he has expressed a desire to leave. Aaron finally agrees. When Aaron firmly states that he is leaving he runs into a problem: he can’t find his car keys. He checks his coat, pats his pocket, and begins looking around the room. You can see the sinking realization on his face that Josef has taken them. And here we arrive at the next defensive lesson from this movie.
Josef continues to grow increasingly erratic. Aaron does a bunch of dumb stuff, like attempting to drug Josef and answering his phone. Finally, in terror, Aaron decides to leave, with or without his keys. He ends up getting into a scuffle with Josef that the viewer can’t see, which offers another good defense lesson.
Lesson 3: Putting the “C” in EDC
I couldn’t help but think, “that would never happen to me!” Even if I’d gotten myself into Aaron’s shoes, my keys don’t leave my pocket unless I’m using them. Then they go right back. To have taken my keys Joseph would have had to get into my left-front pocket. Not gonna happen.
Lesson: the “C” in EDC stands for “Carry”. Your EDC items should stay on your body. Losing his keys was a DISASTER for Aaron! Had Aaron kept his keys in his pocket his night would have ended much more quickly. He wouldn’t have had to flee on foot and find a taxi.
Nor would he have his car towed. Since his car wouldn’t have remained at Josef’s cabin overnight, Josef might not have found out where Aaron lived through his registration and insurance documents. The movie would have been much shorter had Aaron simply kept up with his keys.
Develop a good system for your EDC items. Carry the same things in the same place, every day. You don’t have to think about where critical stuff is, or go looking for it. You instinctively know where it is and instantly know if something is missing.
Lesson 4: Not Every Defense Problem is a Gun Problem
At 47:00 Aaron was attempting to flee the house but was having difficulty. Josef was blocking the door and wearing a scary wolf mask. He wasn’t speaking, but did indicate that he was trying to scare Aaron. Josef was unarmed and wasn’t didn’t appear to be causing any immediate, physical danger to Aaron. It would have even been difficult to prove that Josef was trying to prevent Aaron from leaving.
Had Aaron been armed I seriously doubt he would have been justified in using deadly force. Also, pepper spray would have been ineffective due to the mask. What Aaron needed is some unarmed combatives skills. We all need some unarmed/empty-hand skills. Shooting Josef doubtlessly would have ended Aaron’s situation, but it there’s a decent chance it would have landed him in prison – hardly an unqualified success.
For more information on the moral, legal, and financial hazard of using deadly force check out my in-depth Lethal Force Considerations article. Also consider reading Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make and the Decisions That Led Up to Them by Claude Werner.
Creep: Act III
The next scene shows Joseph digging what appears to be a grave and moving large trash bags around. The shot pans out and you realize Aaron is watching a video that Josef has sent him. This seems to be an intimidation tactic. Aaron throws the DVD away and says, “we are just going to get rid of this and pretend it didn’t happen.”
Next we see Aaron in bed, waking with a start. He explains that he is having bad dreams about Josef. The next morning we see that Aaron has received another package from Josef. This package is much more robust – in addition to a DVD it contains a knife, a plush baby wolf, and a locket. The DVD apologizes for the last film.
The we see Aaron changing his locks and calling the police. At 60:00 we see Aaron in bed. He hears a noise, jumps up and turns lights on. He searches his home armed with the knife. The viewer sees Josef standing right outside Aaron’s door. Frustrated Aaron decides to go outside and have a look around. Not only does he go outside, he also leaves the door unlocked and unattended.
At 64:00 the viewer sees the camera moving over Aaron’s sleeping form and realizes Josef is in the house. There is a DVD in Aaron’s window sill. It begs Aaron to meet and let Josef apologize.
Lesson 5: Know When to Get Police Involved
This probably seems like a no-brainer…then again, some people are really hesitant to call the police. The film shows Aaron calling the cops. While on the phone he realizes how crazy his story sounds and how little information he has about Josef. This was a device to move the film forward.
Instead he should have taken the DVD to the police instead of pretending it never happened. When the next package arrived Aaron would have had much more evidence to bolster his case. The DVD that Aaron found inside his home, and the footage of Josef cutting a lock of his hair would have absolutely been taken seriously.
It’s unlikely the police would have put Aaron in a “safe house” or even given him a round-the-clock officer…but it surely wouldn’t have hurt. Most critically Aaron could have used this information to get Josef arrested – or at least have some police protection – at lake meeting in the final scene.
Know when to get the policed involved in a stalker situation. I realize that most of us are biased toward action. Most of us like the idea of taking care of ourselves. The police have capabilities that you don’t. You have to rest sometime. Don’t throw away evidence, and don’t wait until the guy is in your home to call the cops.
Lesson 6: Don’t Search Outside Your Home
Upon waking one night Aaron searched his home. Unsatisfied (and armed with a kitchen knife) he decided to search outside. We (the viewers) know that Josef is out there. Fortunately it ends well for Aaron…but it might not have. Two things when majorly wrong with this scene.
First, in stepping outside Aaron opened himself up to many, many more danger areas. Josef could literally be anywhere. Secondly, since Aaron’s attempt to get the police involved had been halfhearted, any defensive action may not have been looked on favorably. It may have appear that Aaron decided to “go hunting.”
Third – and critically if you intend to search outside your home – Aaron left his house unsecured. He walked out, walked away from the door, and left it unlocked. This is INSANE! Josef could have (and likely did) let himself in while Aaron was around the corner.
If you do search outside your home, secure the door! This is a fundamental problem with 1-man CQB/searches/clears: you can’t secure area behind you. Once you’ve taken your eyes off it, it’s no longer clear and it’s danger area again.
Lesson 7: Make Your Home Hard to Get Into
When it becomes obvious that Josef is filming Aaron’s sleeping person I was almost jumping up and down. “There’s no way that could EVER happen here!” I wanted to shout. Why not? Quite simply no one is getting into my house without disturbing me. One of three dogs is going to wake me up before someone gets close to the door. Getting through my doors is going to take some effort…or you’ll have to break a window. Though we don’t have one yet we will soon have an alarm system.
I’ve hit on this concept before but someone shouldn’t be able to come into your home without making a good deal of noise. If you haven’t changed the locks in a while, change them. Make sure there are no keys hidden outside (trust me, your hiding places suck). If you have an alarm system, arm it. Lock your damn doors. Don’t buy a dog just for security (they are a huge responsibility), but if you are a dog person, consider it.
Creep: Final Scene
The next scene shows Aaron sitting on a bench. He is filming the encounter, probably for his own safety. He tells the camera that he has 9-1-1 on speed dial. Then he sits on a bench and waits, staring out at the lake. And…well, you know what happens. Half of it is pretty predictable and half of it is a huge plot twist. How could Aaron have avoided this?
Lesson 8: Situational Awareness and Mindset
Aaron didn’t seem to have much situational awareness. He was betting all the cards on the camera protecting him, and being able to rely on a police response.
The most important of the self-defense lessons from Creep is probably this: remain situationally aware and maintain a mindset of self-reliance. Josef was able to creep up (see what I did there?) on Aaron because he was oblivious. He was staring out across the lake, lost in thought. He wasn’t aware of his surroundings at all. Had he been he would have seen Josef coming, retained the ability to keep some distance, and been able to mount a defense.
Nor did Aaron have a mindset of self-reliance. He was planning to depend on police to respond to any danger. He wasn’t prepared to defend himself should Aaron become violent. As far as I know he did not have a gun, a knife, pepper spray, or any empty-hand skills. He just had a phone and blind faith that the cavalry would arrive on time.
Creep: Closing Thoughts
Again, I really enjoy this movie! I’ve seen it a number of times. It’s super creative, super low-budget, and super entertaining. In watching it several times I’ve realized that I love it because on the first watch or two it seems pretty plausible. And there are some good defense lessons from Creep that can help you stay safer. Let’s quickly review.
- If Aaron had recognized the manipulation being utilized by Josef and listened to his inner voice he could have walked away.
- Failing that, had he called Josef’s lie for what it was he – again – could have walked away.
- If he had kept his keys on him he could have driven away. He wouldn’t have had to scuffle with Josef, and Josef probably wouldn’t have found out where he lived.
- Aaron should have had some empty-hand skills when scuffling with Josef.
- The police should have been involved much sooner and much more aggressively.
- Aaron placed himself in additional danger by searching outside his home.
- His home should have been hardened to make it difficult to enter silently.
- Aaron should have had situational awareness and a self-reliance mindset and been prepared to defend himself.
Granted, any of these would have ruined the movie. If Aaron had listened to his inner voice immediately upon arriving at the cabin the film would be five minutes long and not very entertaining. For you and me, though, these techniques may ultimately extend the “film” of our life, not shorten it.