Creepy Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Yutaka Maekawa (original novel), Chihiro Ikeda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa
2016, 130 minutes, Not Rated
Showed at Fantasia Fest 2016 on July 26th, 2016
Hidetoshi Nishijima as Takakura
Yuko Takeuchi as Yasuko
Teruyuki Kagawa as Nishino
Kiyoshi Kurosawa directed the wonderful Suito Homu (that’s “Sweet Home”), a brilliant 1989 haunted house film that has a sort of Goonies-meets-A Nightmare on Elm Street vibe. (And Guillermo del Toro totally ripped it off for Mama.) Though I’m not really familiar with the rest of Kurosawa’s oeuvre (embarrassing, given my love of J-horror), Suito Homu remains one of my very favorite horror films, so I was especially excited to see Kurosawa’s latest offering, Creepy.
Creepy is a wildly different film from Suito Homu, of course. It’s a crime thriller about an ex-cop named Takakura who takes a job at a university a year after screwing up a hostage negotiation, which resulted in him getting stabbed and the hostage getting her throat cut. He and his wife Yasuko try to settle into their new house and their new, rather humdrum life, but they quickly learn that there’s something more than awkward about their new neighbor Nishino, a bizarre, unfriendly man who alternately intimidates and charms Yasuko. At the same time, Takakura begins a casual investigation of an unsolved missing persons from six years previously with a colleague at the university, and as it progresses his former partner also gets involved. Eventually Takakura comes to suspect that neighbor Nishino is linked to the missing family, and as he struggles to make the connection, Nishino’s behavior accelerates from just creepy to outright insane.
Right off the bat there’s a weird dissonance: everybody keeps talking, throughout much of the film, about what a skilled detective Takakura is, and one person notes that he was the only person on the force who had any training in criminal psychology. At one point he can “feel,” through an intuition bordering on clairvoyance, that a derelict house is a crime scene. So he’s framed as some kind of awesome crime-solving genius—but the jarring thing is that he’s wrong about nearly everything throughout the whole film, and nobody ever acknowledges it. Nobody mentions that his stupid decision to trust a knife-wielding psychopath resulted in an innocent person’s death. Early on, Yasuko expresses her fear of Nishino, and Takakura laughingly dismisses it, because psychopaths always seem normal (which Nishino doesn’t, so clearly he’s no threat). This contrast, laughably stark as it is, is played so straight that I don’t think it’s intended as a joke, which suggests that the filmmakers, alas, didn’t entirely know what they were doing.
There’s no subtlety here, no misdirection, and I was very disappointed by this. To be fair, not every crime movie has to be a whodunit, but I wanted very much to be surprised by Creepy. Instead I felt that the trailer had pretty much revealed everything, and as a result I was let down by the fact that the villain is exactly who you think it is, and that the old case has precisely the connection to this villain that you think it does, and that everything is figured out not through real detective work but through “feelings” and thin, circumstantial connections. It offers one or two potential red herrings, but these evaporate quickly and leave an unsatisfyingly obvious scenario in their wake. As far as I could tell, Takakura ultimately realizes that Nishino is connected to the closed missing persons case because of a superficial resemblance between houses. The derelict house belonging to the missing family stood in a particular spatial relationship to a neighboring home, and Takakura determines that his current house is arranged similarly with respect to Nishino’s. While the audience knows that Takakura’s hunch is correct, the path he takes to make the connection is implausible at best.
In fact, the audience suddenly learns the truth of Nishino’s role in an extremely abrupt scene showing him interacting with his current victims, instantly dispelling any lingering doubt about his involvement. It feels like a cheap move and destroys any sense of tension or urgency surrounding Takakura’s investigation. We learn that Nishino brainwashes women through the use of an unnamed drug, and gets them to do the dirty work of killing people he finds inconvenient. Yasuko becomes his next victim, and her enslavement is one of the least convincing aspects of the film. She immediately betrays her husband to be with this psychopath, and while drugs are involved, I’m just not convinced by the speed with which it all goes down. In fact, her “capture” by Nishino occurs off-screen; if we’d seen it happen, I might find this less of a sticking point.
The film also suffers from a high degree of melodrama, with screechy string music signaling important revelations or impending disaster and at least one slow zoom on a character’s face. (These are conventions of Japanese cinema, though, so despite living in Japan currently, my bias as a Western viewer is in play here.) Flimsy and unnecessary CGI mars the presentation at a few points, and the story drags on for an unnecessary two hours and more.
A bright point is the acting. The central cast do an admirable job with a mediocre script. Hidetoshi Nishijima is suitably stoic and handsome if somewhat wooden, as Takakura, and Yuko Takeuchi is thoroughly convincing as the rather stupid, weak-willed and immensely unlikeable Yasuko. But Teruyuki Kagawa shines as the insane, frenetic Nishino, and he effectively carries the film. By turns intimidating, skin-crawlingly awkward, and comically afraid (despite his villainy Nishino buckles when physically confronted), Kagawa’s acting is the most convincing (and enjoyable) part of a basically unbelievable film.
A final problem is the sense that much of the procedural elements are simply inaccurate. Takakura and his former partner break into the derelict house without a warrant or any kind of approval; Takakura interrogates a witness several times, even though he’s not a cop and has no authority to do so; conclusions reached by Takakura and his former police superiors are wildly off the mark. And the academic side is just all wrong. Takakura is a former cop, and while we learn that he has some training in criminal psychology, it’s never indicated exactly what that training entailed. It doesn’t seem like he has a doctorate, though, because when he arrives at his new university, he literally has to ask a colleague what the faculty does besides teach. No PhD would ever ask that question, as they would already have learned the answer firsthand during their graduate training. It seems unlikely that any university would ever hire a person like this, except possibly as an adjunct. But I can say from experience that adjuncting doesn’t provide a living wage (not even close), and as Yasuko doesn’t work, it seems unlikely that Takakura is a part-time teacher. These may be minor details in a work of fiction, but crime fiction really depends on accuracy, and errors like these tend to pull the viewer out of the world and render the whole thing implausible and therefore unimportant.