Grounding horror movies in the banalities of daily life happens as often as sticking a group of awful teenagers in a house where a guy in a mask and sharp object kills them one by one. Kiyoshi Kurosawa wonders why one can’t do both. In Creepy, the Japanese director of Pulse and Cure administers electrical shocks to the hoariest of scenarios: the neighbor who isn’t whom he seems. The last half hour, with its echoes of The Stepfather, is particularly well done.
Creepy earns its title with the casting of Teruyuki Kagawa as Nishino, who has the manner of a pedant and the face of a malicious flounder. Because we’re suspicious of him from the start, Kurosawa is freed to titillate us in other ways. For one thing, Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a cop but not much of a hero. In the film’s opening sequence a hostage crisis results in a grievous wound (a Kurosawa touch: the suspect threatens his victim with a fork). A year later he’s a criminology professor with an expertise in psychopaths that doesn’t extend to his marriage. Kurosawa captures wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) in a series of forced smiles, an extension of her false cheer. Her natural suspicion leads her to suspect Nishino as a deeply strange man. Meanwhile a former colleague asks Koichi to open an investigation into the disappearance of three members of the Honda family in 2009, a cold case. He refuses, but when another colleague learns that Koichi’s been to the crime scene he requests Koichi’s help — he’s been reexamining the case too.
Kurosawa films revel in these coincidences, especially if they push characters towards their fated doom. Part of the fun of Creep is how Nishino’s grotesqueness isn’t a secret. Empowerment cliches dot his language (“She can do it if she puts her mind to it”). His wife is a pale, frightened figure, his daughter not much better. The garden is too well kept. Koichi thinks Nishino did the Honda murders, a conclusion his former bosses don’t share. This leads to the usual complications, from which Kurosawa doesn’t keep the appropriate distance. But with his deep focus and bird’s-eye views he brings the rigor of a Preminger or Siegel to familiar material ( (Yuri Habuka contributes one of the more effective movie scores I’ve heard in recent months). Many things happen at once in a Kurosawa shot: men and women at work, things outside windows.
Such meticulous doesn’t produce an inert picture or, worse, an art-damaged genre piece that pleases neither horror devotees nor the festival crowd. Enamored with trap doors, cellars, and syringes with mysterious drugs, Kurosawa uses these yucks for the same thrills as anyone else. The violence of the third act will shock anyone lulled by the picture’s heretofore ripple-free surface. A bigger shock was the ending; perhaps a certain denouement was in Yutaka Maekawa’s novel, but onscreen it feels like a travesty. Conventions remain conventions. The last shot, however, in which a character yields to a paroxysm of grief, is a reminder that there were things at stake in Creepy; for this character, a happy ending is impossible.