It’s not that I live on a diet of serial killer movies and thriller novels. I did read Silence of the Lambs once, so I would never consider myself an expert, but for some reason – maybe the title, or maybe the fact that plenty of other Kiyoshi Kurosawa films (like Retribution and Real to name just a couple) have been fairly hair-raising – I did in all honesty expect this 2016 murder thriller Creepy to be far creepier. Maybe this should be a lesson in not going with the easy option, because as self-fulfilling movie titles go, I reckon it would have been more accurate to call it A Little Creepy But Mostly Just Full of Plot Holes.
I know, I know. It spoils all the fun when you have to think about silly little details like the absence of sensible police procedure, or ridiculous decisions made because the main character says so, but sometimes it’s just all you can do. The story starts off strong, with a great set up – Police Detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishjima) making the wrong call with a remorseless serial killer and subsequently retiring from the force and moving with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to a quiet life in the ‘burbs. Settling in, the two of them attempt to do the neighbourly thing and go introduce themselves around, except the neighbours aren’t particularly friendly, and one of them – Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) is downright-
Wait, wait. Let me quiz you on this.
b) Socially maladjusted
c) A criminal mastermind
No points for guessing right, sorry. It has to be said though that Kagawa’s performance is fairly terrific, and if not for him this wouldn’t have even rated the ‘creepy’ part of ‘A little creepy but full of plot holes’. His by-turns awkward and menacing Nishino lays down a solid foundation for the suspicious goings on in the Takakuras’ new neighbourhood, and at least until events start to go a little south, he provides the main reason why it’s still fun for viewers who like to yell things at their TV like “Oh my god don’t go in there!”
Kurosawa also handles this portion of the story superbly. While Takakura investigates a seemingly unrelated disappearance case and Yasuko becomes increasingly isolated, the director is gleefully painting his frames in hues of bright sickly green and dull dirty grey and the dim claustrophobia of stale, closed in spaces.
But part of the joy of these kinds of stories is also wondering, always wondering, if you’ve guessed right after all. Maybe the Nishinos really are just a little odd. Maybe Takakura, after the trauma he’s suffered, is having something of a breakdown, or is so desperate for redemption that he’s grasping at straws. Maybe he and Yasuko don’t have the picture-perfect marriage they appear to? Doubts, in the context of murder mysteries and catch-the-killer stories, are delicious morsels in a wonderful feast of skin-crawling scariness.
Sadly, Creepy starts out promising but reveals its face far too early. The nice healthy tension that was growing with all those uncertainties just flops over like a dead thing. RIP creepy story, hello crazy, illogical serial killer movie. Granted, it’s not as kooky as it could have been, and maintains a fairly direct line of sight to the end, but the plot holes that appear towards that end become a little too gaping to ignore.
Even sadder still, you do get the sense that there’s more lurking below the movie’s surface, more about the mind of a psychopath, and about how people get pulled into such an individual’s orbit. The how’s and why’s are frustratingly out of reach though, and the story flashes – again purely on the strength of Kagawa’s performance – one final moment of true creepiness before the credits roll, not quite enough to salvage things, merely a mark of unrealised potential.