As director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s return to horror after a decade long hiatus, Creepy displays a grasp of terror and suspense that has only strengthened with age. With a keen, angled sense of world building, Kurosawa leads his audience along with an ever-shortening leash. Twisting and turning down avenues of thought and mystery, he consistently subverts his chosen path in a way that leaves us cluelessly out of sorts and second-guessing every inkling of plot shortly after it arises.
Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a detective with an innate connection to psychopaths and serial killers. Leaving the force after a close call with a deranged murderer, Takakura takes a cushy job as a professor, teaching his trade to university students eager to “crack cases” and formulate their own “hunches.” Besides affording him a respite from the day-to-day dangers of police work, this new job offers Takakura and his wife, Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi), a break from the hustle of city life. Their idyllic new suburban retreat situates them high on a hill and next to neighbours keen to stick to themselves — at least at first. Their next-door neighbour, Nishino (a pitch-perfect Teruyuki Kagawa), seems bipolar in his awkward social attempts, and, as the film continues, he transforms from a shy hideaway into a forceful hang around. When Takakura’s detective colleague, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), approaches him with a six-year-old cold case, the investigator’s intuition for crime begins to collide with his life at home.
Kurosawa possesses an almost supernatural ability to control his audience. Imperceptible shifts in tone, light and mood occur while our backs are turned, and we, like the characters inside his meticulously crafted universe, are only aware of the danger after the damage is done. Takakura’s probing interview with the cold-case’s lone survivor, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi), is shot with a meandering gaze, following the two around the university building as they get closer and closer to uncovering the truth. This trancelike shot magnificently swells with Kurosawa’s choice to slowly lower the lights until it is nearly dark. Working from the shadows, the director has his audience trapped with nowhere to turn — we have become as entranced by the quiet, shadowy presence as young Saki.
Unlike many other horror filmmakers today, Kurosawa knows that he must bend the logical rules of his selected universe in order for his vision to come alive. In Creepy, the characters don’t just walk through clearly broken doors or down decrepit stairs into inky black cellars; Kurosawa writes them in such a way as to be completely blind to any form of danger. Forget fumbling along a wall for a light switch, Takakura and his ilk walk openly into well-lit dungeons — the only thing missing is a sign that reads “Danger.” These participants are not painted as dumb or one dimensional, we don’t scream at them to go back or turn around, and although we may laugh at their sheer audacity, we still share an unshakable concern for their wellbeing. We come to understand that these characters aren’t designed to be frustrating, as each acts the way they do because they must in order for any horror to take place.
Creepy is a film that takes its titular feeling to frightening new heights, and Kurosawa’s game of bait-and-switch intensely compounds when acted out alongside his mastery of tension. In a quiet, unsuspecting universe populated with mass-murdering teens and schools dedicated to the study of psychopaths, almost anything can happen — and almost anything does.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.