Based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Yutaka Maekawa, Creepy marks director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s return to the horror genre since Japanese horror classics Pulse and Cure. It’s a return that brings the familiarity of Kurosawa’s methodical, atmospheric approach to horror, yet departs from the supernatural themes of his previous works. More chilling psychological thriller with brushstrokes of horror than straight horror, Creepy lives up to its name.
The film opens with an introduction to Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a detective with a heavy interest in criminal psychology. He soon trades in his badge for a teaching job, however, when a young serial killer in custody breaks loose and he barely escapes with his life. Unsatisfied with his new career and a move to a quieter neighborhood in the suburbs with his wife, it doesn’t take much convincing from a former colleague to investigate a cold case that saw three family members disappear without a trace, leaving behind a shell-shocked daughter.
This plot thread coincides with the daily activities of Takakura’s wife, Yasuka (Yuko Takeuchi), as she makes repeated attempts to get to know her neighbors. She’s met with hostility until she encounters the eccentric Mr. Nishino. Nishino alternates between socially awkward, rude, and somewhat charming but all with varying degrees of skin-crawling menace. Even his daughter, Mio, seems intimidated by him. He’s precisely the type of weirdo that inspires the title of the film. Yet the ever polite Yasuka, living so close, doesn’t have the fortune to avoid him.
These two plot strands eventually converge, but Kurosawa masterfully builds the tension and dread leading up to that moment. Teruyuki Kagawa, as the nefarious Nishino is a scene stealer. Kagawa’s performance has a lot to do with the film’s success. Takakura and Yasuka are both affable as the protagonists, yet often make frustrating decisions. On their own, the leads seem clueless, but together as a married couple proves more interesting. Over the course of the film, cracks begin to show in their seemingly idyllic marriage, and it contributes heavily to the direction of the narrative.
Kurosawa’s simplistic style keeps things off kilter. Most of the scenes are in the bright daylight, with clean, deliberate camera work that juxtaposes the sense of danger that’s lurking behind closed doors. There’s a clear sense that something’s amiss, but visually everything appears to be fine. It also highlights Nishino’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing smarminess.
At a run time of just over two hours, it’s not until 90 minutes in that things go from palpable foreboding to really wacky. Kurosawa is a director that favors atmosphere over gore, but he doesn’t shy away from ghastly imagery. You’ll likely never look at a food vacuum sealer the same way again. Though the modus operandi of the film’s psychopath is wholly unique, it also deflates all of the built up tension. Once all of the puzzle pieces click into place, the pacing slows to a halt with it. The payoff disappoints.
This psychological thriller begins in typical fashion and ends a bit on the predictable side, but everything in between is masterful. Kurosawa knows how to ramp up the dread, and Nishino makes for one of the most effective antagonists in recent memory. Not just because he oozes skin-crawling wrongness, but also that he feels like someone you could easily meet. Or already know.
Creepy will screen at the NYAFF on June 29th, 2016.
Creepy [NYAFF Review]
True to its title, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s return to horror makes for an effective psychological thriller with a memorably skin-crawling villain. This psychological thriller begins in typical fashion and ends a bit on the predictable side, but everything in between is masterful.