Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa & Chihiro Ikeda
(based on the novel KURIPI by Yutaka Maekawa)
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi & Masahiro Higashide
The director of PULSE and CURE returns to the darker genre that he thrived in with CREEPY. This isn’t strictly a horror film, but rather a very horrific thriller. I haven’t read the novel KURIPI by Yutaka Maekawa, so I can’t claim that CREEPY is a faithful adaptation of the source material. However, it is a tense slow-burn mystery with disturbing pay-offs and has a very thick, moody atmosphere. If you don’t mind a slow-burn that progressively reveals its increasingly dark nature as it goes along, then CREEPY more than delivers on its title.
Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a former detective turned college professor. Takakura gave up his crime-fighting job after a failed hostage negotiation ended with two dead bodies and a fork shanked in his back (I’m not making that up). In an effort to live a less stressful existence, he and his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) have moved to a quiet suburb. Everything is nice about this neighborhood…except for the socially awkward, secretive next-door-neighbor Masato Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa). Out of sheer curiosity, Takakura soon finds himself digging into a cold case in his spare time. Three people mysteriously disappeared from their home and Takakura begins to suspect that creepy neighbor Nishino may somehow be connected to the bizarre crimes.
CREEPY is a deliberately paced thriller that steadily builds-up an unnerving stack of clues over time. The film doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot in that we are supposed to doubt our protagonist’s intuition, but also doesn’t reveal all of its tricks in a long exposition dump. The film allows for Takakura’s freelance investigation and Nishino’s oddball behavior to escalate before hinting at the sinister truth beneath the Japanese suburbia. As the film’s dark revelations increase, so does the dread-soaked atmosphere of something very horrible lurking in the shadows. When CREEPY does hits the viewer in full-force, it’s like a sledgehammer to the emotions.
CREEPY does not have a high body count, though there are a few corpses and spurts of violence. Instead, it functions on psychological terror and paranoia. This works far more effectively than you may expect, resulting in a similar doom-and-gloom feeling that one gets from ultra-gory serial killer thrillers. That’s not to say that the film is without some faults though. There are clichéd moments of people not believing Takakura, even though he caught serial killers for a living before his fork-shanking screw-up. On a positive note, the screenplay logically took care of most of these in the space of a few minutes.
Familiar clichés and formulaic moments aside, the mostly clever writing doesn’t excuse a handful of stupid character decisions in the final third. One of these bone-headed moves seems to exist purely for the sake of moving the story along. Can characters just not split up for once, especially if they’re investigating the home of a possible psychopath? Still, 95% of the film’s unnerving screenplay and thick atmosphere make up for the plot’s later logic-defying hiccups. Strongly written characters are the main thrust of CREEPY’s screenplay and these are further aided by stellar performances.
Hidetoshi Nishijima plays Takakura as a strong protagonist who definitely has flaws and occasionally comes off as a loose-cannon. His problems as a somewhat neglectful husband play into the narrative in a big way. Yuko Takeuchi plays Takakura’s wife as a strong enough supporting character at first, but then goes through an emotionally distraught story arc. Some of her bits seemed a bit too vague, but the viewer doesn’t necessarily need to see everything spelled out for them. This is especially true when you consider all the clues and hints that certain scenes throw at you during the final third. We’re given enough to make some accurate guesswork in later developments. I’m purposely being vague because I want to avoid spoilers.
Without a doubt, the show-stealer is Teruyuki Kagawa as creepy neighbor Nishino. Kagawa sort of seems like a Japanese Peter Lorre. His wide-eyed appearance is a bit odd to begin with (aiding his strange antagonist) and his nervous mannerisms make him into someone that’s far from your typical movie psychopath. I won’t go into further details, because (again) that might detract from the nasty surprises that CREEPY’s second half holds. Just know that Kagawa is super creepy as CREEPY’s creepy creep. Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself from typing that sentence.
If you’re looking for a psychological chiller that goes off the beaten path in a lot of ways and progressively gets darker as it goes along, then CREEPY is probably your cup of tea! This film is not without a few faults (mainly a couple of annoying clichés and one aggravatingly stupid character decision), but it’s pretty friggin’ suspenseful the whole way through. The final 20 minutes had me on the edge of my seat because I had no idea how things would turn out. Either option would have been a stellar ending and I thought the screaming final seconds were a powerful note to end on. CREEPY lives up to its title and then some!