Failing to muster the sort of menace promised by the title, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Creepy is more thriller than chiller; a meandering police procedural that’s occasionally absorbing, but ultimately unconvincing.
An imposing prologue initially sets the bar high. In a dingy interview room, Detective Inspector Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an expert of the criminal mind, sits opposite a known murderer. The air is rife with a forbidding atmosphere, but undeterred, he confronts this killer with confidence – convinced he is in control. Minutes later, Takakura lies on the floor fighting for his life, the crazed psycho having proved that it was he who was in charge from the start.
A year later, and still haunted by those events, Takakura has quit the force, moved to the suburbs with his wife Yasuko (Yūko Takeuchi), and is about to begin teaching a psychology course at the local university. Then, just as he is settling comfortably into his new life, Koichi is approached by a former colleague, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), who asks for his assistance in closing a missing persons case that has gone unsolved for 6 years. Meanwhile, back at home, Yasuko finds herself being slowly drawn into an insidious game of cat and mouse with the couple’s mysterious new neighbour, Mr Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) – a man so strange, even their dog takes a dislike to him.As he has demonstrated in the past with the likes of Pulse, Kurosawa is a master builder of slow-burning tension. The set-up here is stock; the detective whose mind is always consumed by his work, compelled to solve one last crime; the vulnerable wife; the peculiar neighbour. We’ve seen it countless times before, and yet in the hands of this acclaimed J-Horror director, we still find ourselves submitting to its sinister spell.
Shading the image to enhance the eerie aura of dread at opportune moments, the director delights in teasing the audience in the early stages, his cards clasped firmly to his chest: Kagawa’s abstruse performance casting an unnerving shadow over Nishijima and Takeuchi’s likeable leads. Without warning, however, the pressure is popped – Kurosawa incomprehensibly deciding to play his hand early.
The influence of Hollywood thrillers here is all too apparent, Kurosawa clearly taking his cue from the David Fincher playbook – the fluid motion of Akiko Ashizawa’s camera and Yuri Habuka’s restless score both augmenting the disquiet. Never as a viewer though do you find yourself shocked or surprised by what you see; the early reveal eliminating our uncertainty, and leaving the story struggling to sustain the illusion of suspense over its extended running time. That this film squanders so much potential is criminal.