Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
To give a film this name requires confidence. Like fellow Asian chiller Grotesque, it’s not just a catchy blurb but a statement of intent. It’s this assurance that makes the latest outing from genre legend Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse and Cure) so watchable. Based on the novel by Yutaka Maekawa, this is a police-procedural horror that may not be one of the most original movies of the year, but is certainly among the most disturbing.
The tension starts early. In a fantastic opener forensic psychologist Takakura (Nishijima), who specialises in understanding psychopaths, finds his work cut out for him when his latest subject escapes. A nasty sequence follows that shows this film isn’t going to play anything safe. Skip forward in time and the recently moved, though still traumatised, Takakura has taken up a role as a lecturer. He’s pretty good at it, thrilling his classes with tales of the macabre. Yet, as typically happens in thrillers, he’s brought out of retirement for one last job: investigating a missing family case from 6 years ago. As this goes on a parallel plot see his own family unit under threat, with his wife Yasuko (Takeuchi) being weirded out by their new rude neighbour Nishino (Kagawa): an unsettling middle aged man who lives with his daughter Mio (Fujino), and a ‘depressed’ wife who’s suspiciously absent. However, when his back’s turned the little girl swears he’s a stranger. A childish joke or a nasty reveal? Well that’d be telling.
As for how this watches: the clue’s in the title. Creepy is not the sort of film that relies on ghost-train thrills, scare a minute shocks or screeching crescendos of high strings. Rather it’s the sort of horror that gets below viewers’ skin and stays there. Some of the iconography is deeply unpleasant, including some shocking scenes involving tight plastic bags – it may not be graphic, but damn is it disconcerting. And whilst it takes its time getting there, the last act is thrilling. We don’t see characters suffer as much as watch them get broken. Along the way Kurosawa shows himself to be adept at creating mood, tension and intrigue through skilled framing, a tight pacing and restrained long shots. The feeling of dread starts early and continues to build up and up right up until the rewarding finale.
The character arcs are masterfully handled, with psychological tensions between the scant cast being explored both subtly and maturely. Truly, there are layers to the film, mostly addressing familial ties ties and recovery from trauma, that elevate it beyond similar genre offerings. There are unexpectedly emotional stakes that let the key confrontations feel as personal as they are plot driven. In particular, the relationship between Takakura and Yasuko has far more depth than would typically be found in the subgenre. Nishijima is a brilliant protagonist capturing multiple side to a fairly nuanced protagonist. Furthermore, when the villain is revealed, the performance is utterly compelling. The way the actor leaps from awkward to intimidating in the same sentence is fascinating to watch, making for one of 2016’s nastiest antagonists.
The problem is the mystery behind who they are is as predictable as the local police are incompetent (and believe me, this is one of the most inept onscreen forces I can think of). As the stings in the tale happen they will do little to surprise you, with much of the first two acts watching as you’d expect. This extends to some story developments it’d be misleading to refer to as twists. That being said, the sense of dread conjured up is so powerful that you’ll forgive the by the numbers beats because of how well they’re delivered. The final product is a dark domestic horror that’s maybe a little too workmanlike to be a classic. Yet is still a nerve-wracking movie that lives up to not only the director’s strong reputation, but its bold title.
Creepy is released at the cinema on November 25th 2016 and is available on dual format on 23rd January 2017