Trust Your Gut: The Role of Conscience in Horror | Black Writers Week

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There are varying degrees of contradiction between our conscience and survival instincts. We’re not likely to be running from a slasher in the woods or facing off with a satanic demon. The chances of encountering sinister everyday people, however, is much higher, and in these more innocuous situations, it’s not unlikely to second guess, to question your judgment, and to betray your gut. What happens when you do can certainly be a matter of life and death, and the possession of street smarts is not the relinquishing of danger.

Patrick Brice’s 2014 film “Creep,” is a perfect example. Aaron (Patrick Brice) gets hired off Craigslist to do a videography job for a strange man named Josef (Mark Duplass). Aaron drives out to a remote cabin to meet him, and Josef explains that he’s expecting a baby he’ll never get to meet because he’s dying of a brain tumor. As his dying wish, he wants a video to leave behind a message for his unborn child.

Throughout the course of the film, Josef displays increasingly odd behavior. From a fake-threatening prank he pulls on Aaron upon his arrival, to leaving him behind in the woods, and asking strange prying questions, eccentric is the least one could do to describe him. Aaron chuckles through confusion and apprehension, but he doesn’t leave. After all, Josef is supposedly a dying man, desperate to connect any way he can with his expectant child, and while his strangeness is uneasy, it isn’t criminal. 

Yet as the film progresses, Josef devolves. He dons the film’s iconic wolf mask, blocks exits and looms over Aaron, his presence increasingly threatening. He begins to revel in Aaron’s discomfort and eventually discloses that he sexually assaulted his wife. It is only after this pitfall of events and explicitly expressed criminality that Aaron finally pushes to leave. The boundary of politeness and perseverance has been surpassed, but now his keys have gone missing. 

Josef is a red flag on steroids, and though we understand that he’s a danger, we only do so with the omniscient knowledge that we’re watching a horror film. We see these red flags as already bloody hands. For Aaron, his desperation for money and Josef’s pitifulness, paired with the hesitance to be judgmental, doesn’t allow him the awareness of the gravity of his situation until it’s too late. Josef’s proposed desperation mirrors Aaron’s own, and it’s a deadly cocktail of facades. 


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