A slow-paced but gripping thriller is bolstered by excellent direction and performances.
“Most dangerous criminals seem super nice to their neighbours, so I guess he’s safe.”
You don’t always have the chance to vet your neighbours when you move house. Often, you just sort of have to go with it and hope that they don’t have weekly raves in the back garden, or are raising killer bees or whatever. But in movie world, it’s that sort of carelessness that winds up leaving you in a house next to Buffalo Bill. This is true of Koichi Takakura (Hideotshi Nishijima): a detective and criminal profiler who quits his job and moves to the countryside with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) after being attacked by an escaped killer. It seems only fair that he didn’t have time to do a tonne of research on his new home, admittedly.
He is now works as a university lecturer, and Yasuko – in an attempt to make a good first impression – meets their new neighbours, including the strange and slightly awkward Nishino (Teruyaki Kagawa). Neither Takakura is particularly sold on him, but Yasuko warms to him a little after she meets his daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) and gets to know them a bit better. Meanwhile, Koichi is approached by a former colleague, detective Nogami (Masahiro Higashide) who urges him to help with a cold case about a family which meant missing six years ago. The only person left behind was their young daughter Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi), who seems to have repressed a lot of memories about the incident. Things start to get tense when the case is burst open, and as Nishino begins to get closer to Yasuko.
For most of its runtime, Creepy is a film split in two. On the one hand, we have a tense thriller about a strange neighbour whose intentions and personality aren’t entirely clear, and on the other is a missing-persons mystery, although it admittedly serves to keep Koichi away from the house while Nishino and Yasuko interact. At the very least while the stories don’t seem to have a lot in common, both plots at least share an eerie, uncomfortable atmosphere and do well to draw you in. But anyone who’s even mildly versed in story structure knows that either the film will connect both plots by the end, or they’ll remain distinct and both options run the risk of being underwhelming.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case, and while some twists and turns are a bit predictable, director Kiyoshi Kurasawa ensures us that it’s the journey that’s worth sticking around for. Think of the first half of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (before everything goes belly-up) or something like François Ozon;s Dans La Maison, which was also going in a very predictable direction, while remaining highly engaging throughout. Kurosawa’s skill behind the camera does a lot of the heavy lifting here, notably during the scenes of Koichi and Nogami investigating which have reminded me a lot of Se7en, with long takes, and gentle camera movements. Lonely, dilapidated buildings amidst grey-filtered scenery give those moments ambiguousness and an upsetting discomfort which permeates the entire movie.
If the Saki storyline benefits the most from Kurosawa’s abilities behind the camera, the main plot is largely driven by a stand-out performance by Teruyuki Kagaw. The script gives Kagawa a challenge in his portrayal of the unsettling neighbour as – thanks to the movie’s name and his own introduction – he’s already labelled as sinister from the get-go. However, as the events of the movie progress and his personality is questioned, Kagawa has to find ways to balance his titular creepiness with moments of levity, just enough to make the audience doubt themselves, and it’s a very difficult balancing act. That he’s able to pull off every aspect of his character without it feeling disingenuous is a testament to the work he’s doing. And don’t get me wrong: everyone else here does a great job with their characters (especially Ryoko Fujino as Mio), but the majority of them more or less have only a single gear to work with, which makes finding your voice and sticking with it a lot easier.
Creepy is a bafflingly long 130 minutes, which seems a little unnecessary considering the fairly straightforward narratives. I get that it’s a slow burn, and thankfully never feels like it’s dragging on, but it could have done with chopping some of its runtime down. There are definitely times when it feels like information is being repeated, or story points are hammered in on the off-chance you weren’t paying attention properly. It’s not enough to really condemn it – again, I’ve seen movies almost an hour shorter which have felt longer – but it does make some scenes a little more tedious than they needed to be. But hey, minor gripe aside, ultimately the film should easily delight fans of early Christopher Nolan or David Fincher as a very well-made and often tense mystery thriller loaded with great performances and some decent twists (if you don’t think about them too hard).
Verdict: Packed with atmosphere, Creepy certainly lives up to its name.
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Sex: 0/10, surprisingly
Ending: I think it would have been more eerier if it cut the last two scenes out
Serial killings: A relatively modern form of crime, it seems
Types of serial killer: 3. Organised, disorganised and mixed
Also known as: クリーピー 偽りの隣人 (Creepy Imaginary Neighbour)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurasawa
Writers: Kiyoshi Kurasawa, Chihiro Ikeda, Yutaka Maekawa (novel)
Hidetoshi Nishijima – Koichi Takakura
Yūko Takeuchi – Yasuko Takakura
Teruyuki Kagawa – Nishino
Haruna Kawaguchi – Saki Honda
Masahiro Higashide – Nogami
Ryoko Fujino – Mio
Toru Baba – Matsuoka
Takashi Sasano – Tanimoto
Masahiro Toda – Okawa