Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Opens October 21 at the Metrograph
Creepy is one of the two movies Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made this year, the other being Daugerrotype, his first French-language film, which received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. Though subject-wise they’re quite different—Creepy a detective procedural that’s also a study of psychosis, Daugerrotype a ghost story that’s also a study of obsession—both are characterized by Kurosawa’s usual penchant for stretching out tension and intrigue as much as possible for maximum impact. In Daguerrotype, however, Kurosawa failed to fill in the world and his characters with the kind of detail that would support such slow-burn pacing, leaving the film, while full of intriguing notions, feeling more enervated than mesmerizing.
No such issues exist with Creepy, a genre piece as dense as it is atmospheric. The set-up is familiar: Having suffered a professional setback thanks to a murder he failed to prevent, former detective/criminal psychologist Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) relocates to a quiet suburban neighborhood with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) intent on leaving his former life behind—until both a request from an ex-colleague, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), and his own boredom as a university professor leads him to investigate a mysterious missing-family case from six years ago. Meanwhile, Takakura starts getting suspicious of his eccentric next-door neighbor, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa)—especially when, one day, his daughter, Mio (Ryoko Fujino), tells him that Nishino isn’t actually her father.
The way these two narrative threads converge are startlingly diabolical, to put it mildly. But as ever with Kurosawa, there’s much more to Creepy than mere shock value. To some degree, the mystery surrounding Nishino is a MacGuffin, with explanations of his wildly inconsistent behavior—sinister in one scene, sycophantic the next—less important than the reactions he inspires in others. For most of his neighbors, he inspires little more than a shrug as they go about their own daily lives. This neighborly apathy is illustrated early on when Yasuko tries to ingratiate herself with another neighbor and that neighbor bluntly tells her she doesn’t associate much with anyone else in town. In that sense, Kurosawa sketches in a portrait of small-town indifference—the kind that might allow a psychopath to quietly flourish under their noses.
There are also intimations of a perverse kinship between Takakura and Nishino. Both are called “inhuman” by different characters on two separate occasions, but while Nishino’s inhumanity is made appallingly physical, Takakura’s is more insidiously psychological. His criminal-psychologist background connotes a chilly scientific detachment that occasionally leads him to see people as little more than objects of study—as is the case with Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi), the one family member from that six-year-old missing-family case who didn’t disappear, and who remains scarred by the incident in ways that Takakura isn’t always sensitive to.
But it’s Takakura’s strained relationship with Yasuko that represents his biggest failure, as well as Creepy’s most emotionally potent thread. She begins to act strangely around her husband the more she interacts with Nishino, but though we eventually discover a concrete reason for her behavior, it almost doesn’t matter: She was already exhibiting signs of loneliness from the outset, something Nishino seized upon for his own unspeakable purposes. By the end, even as some loose ends remain with Creepy’s central mystery, Kurosawa leaves us with a wife’s piercingly animalistic cries of frustration to bring a couple’s trial-by-fire reconciliation to a haunting close.