Film Review: Creepy

Unsettling Japanese Horror-Hybrid Knows How To Make Skin Crawl

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
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What is creepy? Feel free to conjure up concrete examples. But think about the very definition of the word itself. What is creepy? It’s different from scary, which is an overt, immediate sense of fear. Creepy is more a feeling of apprehension. It’s the nervous idea that something (probably something bad) is going to happen. It’s all in that root word: creep. To creep is to move slowly with the body close to the ground—on hands and knees even. Scary doesn’t creep. It jumps right out at you and yells, “Boo!” But that sort of fear expires quickly. Scary is a short, sharp shock. Creepy inches up on you slowly when you’re not looking. Creepy sticks around. It’s no small wonder then to find Japanese master of the slow-burn creep Kiyoshi Kurosawa working his sinister magic, once again, with his newest horror offering, called—you guessed it—Creepy.

Back in the ’90s, Kurosawa rose to fame on a string of eerie, horror/crime films (
Cure, Charisma and Pulse being the best known). Weird, existential and just left of completely comprehensible, Kurosawa’s films depict a decaying modern Tokyo unraveling under various menaces (supernatural or otherwise) that threaten to unseat the social order with some sort of horrifying, chaotic truth hiding just beneath the surface. Kurosawa’s films may look, on the surface, like the twisty, highbrow thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock—but it’s David Lynch’s worms-beneath-suburban-lawns horror-noir Blue Velvet with which they share the most spiritual connection.

Creepy Kurosawa introduces us to Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a former police detective who was injured on the job (hunting serial killers, no less) and has since retired. Some years later he and his wife, Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi), move to a less-than-fashionable neighborhood in Tokyo, and Koichi takes up a position as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. Koichi soon becomes bored with his sedate new life, however, and finds himself casually investigating a 6-year-old cold case involving the mysterious disappearance of three members from an ordinary Tokyo family. Meanwhile, back at home, his lonely wife tries introducing herself to her new neighbors—all of whom prove to be strange and standoffish. This is particularly true of Mr. Nishino (longtime character actor Teruyuki Kagawa), the Takakura’s unpredictable, secretive and (need I say it?) creepy next-door neighbor. That these two storylines will eventually merge is hardly surprising. It’s a narrative convenience that in most other stories would seem lazy. But Kurosawa’s universes are just off enough from reality that it feels somehow dreadfully inevitable.

Based on the mystery novel of the same name by Yutaka Maekawa,
Creepy isn’t Kurosawa’s tidiest, tightest narrative. Plot twists are head-snappingly unexpected, and certain characters behave in ways that aren’t entirely justified by the film’s esoteric explanations. (Seriously, nobody in their right mind is wandering down into that basement.) And at about 2 hours and 10 minutes, Creepy does put the slow in slow-burn. Still, taken as a whole, the film has an undeniably unsettling quality to it.

Longtime fans of Kurosawa may recognize a more than incidental similarity between the serial killer at the heart of this film and the villain of his 1997 breakthrough
Cure. But it’s not the first time Kurosawa has seen fit to repeat himself. In 1998 he directed back-to-back films Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider—both of which starred Sho Aikawa as a father exacting bloody revenge for the death of his daughter, both of which followed similar stories to differing ends.

Creepy isn’t as darkly troubling as Cure. It’s also not as philosophical as Charisma or as mind-bending as Pulse. But, as it slowly reveals itself to viewers, it makes the most of its long-simmering atmosphere of tension and dread. The pedestrian suburban settings are just down-market enough to discomfit. The soundtrack is just quiet enough to cause every tiny footstep to be amplified to unsettling volume. Our boy Nishino never tips his hand, making you question whether he’s just socially awkward or a complete psychopath. Kurosawa’s entire world is off by enough degrees that you wouldn’t be surprised to see it spin off in any insane direction on a moment’s notice. Although, in the end, Creepy shies away from clear psychological and supernatural resolutions, it still provides enough unwholesome suggestions to make you look askance at your fellow man. And if you happen to be searching for a good definition of the word creepy … hoo-boy, has this film got you covered.

looks like a perfectly happy suburban potluck to me.

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