With Creepy, Cannes prize-winning director Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to the horrors with which he first found fame nearly twenty years ago. Unlike Pulse (2001), however, in which spirits threaten to invade the corporeal world through the internet, this latest film is rooted in a more mundane reality. It is an amalgam of those early J-horrors and Kurosawa’s more character-oriented pieces, such as Tokyo Sonata (2008). Creepy, as did that film, explores the dysfunctions of a modern Japanese family, except this time the psychological issues of its subjects manifest themselves in more violent ways.
The setup is rather conventional for a film of its type. Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a police detective who quits the force after a botched hostage negotiation leaves him with a stab wound and a dead civilian. He uses his experience to become a university professor but when an ex-colleague turns a missing persons cold case his way, Takakura finds himself following a trail of dead bodies almost to his own front door.
Meanwhile his wife, Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi), is doing her best to make friends with the neighbours of their new home. One man, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), proves particularly cantankerous, if not outright rude. His erratic behaviour soon draws Takakura’s attention, who starts to think that Nishino might be linked to his murder investigation in some way.
The two men circle each other in an uneasy cat-and-mouse where for a long time it’s unclear if the ex-cop’s suspicions are valid. Until this is resolved there seems to be no safe place. Police stations, daylit streets and neighbours’ own homes all appear vulnerable to the killer’s influence. The tension is unrelenting, as a result. It is something of a relief when we get to see behind the curtain (or the basement door) and see what foulness lies beyond.
Unfortunately, the film labours towards its climax. The only problem with knowing a killer’s identity early on is that for the rest of the film you wait for the characters to catch up. Takakura’s former colleagues in the police force are particularly aggravating in this regard. They wander through the killer’s front door, one after another, like the dumb teenagers in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) inadvertently offering themselves to Leatherface and his family. There may not be bones on the living room floor, but there are skeletons in the basement and the pile keeps getting bigger.
Tokyo Sonata looked at the influence a family can have on its individual members, for better or worse. Creepy twists the same theme into a morbid, shadowy version of itself, where family ties can be manipulated in much more practical ways. Until the latter part of the film, the behaviour of some characters is frequently baffling. They exist in some sort of stupor where it’s difficult to tell whether they act out of love or coercion.
This is one of the greatest strengths of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, to be able to isolate his characters in the middle of their loved ones. He knows how to do this visually, by closing the frame around them, and he has returned to a genre in which to do so is an asset to the storytelling. It is, however, somewhat thin in its narrative; hence the way it meanders towards a harrowing, albeit welcome, conclusion.
Kurosawa continues to confound expectations; his next project is a French-language chamber-piece starring Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau and Mathieu Amalric called Daguerrotype (2016). Hopefully Creepy is not the last horror film we’ve seen from him but considering the unpredictability of his work, it’s matter of if he’s game, not when.
Original title: Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Toru Baba
Runtime: 130 minutes