Can you really trust your neighbours, as respectable as they might seem? Isn’t there something a little strange about the guy who lives two doors down – the unblinking one who walks without swinging his arms? There’s a hint of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window to the Japanese suspense thriller Creepy, mixed with a dash of Joe Dante’s under-appreciated comedy horror, The ‘Burbs: Joe Dante’s a pointed satire of suburban life where a poorly maintained front lawn becomes an early sign of psychopathy.
“Serial killing is a modern sort of crime,” observes Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a university professor and former detective who’s retired from the force following a grim incident involving a captured murder suspect and a fork. A year after that prickly trauma, Takakura moves with his demure wife, Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to a quiet Japanese suburb where the houses are neat and the neighbours avoid talking to one another at all costs. “It’s simply not worth the bother,” a surly middle-aged woman says when the newcomers knock on her door to introduce themselves. Then there’s next-door neighbour Mr Nishino (a brilliantly bug-eyed Teruyuki Kagawa), a small, beetling man who slicks his hair to one side and seems oddly defensive when questioned about his wife and daughter.
Between lectures, Takakura grows restless, and can’t help investigating an old case of a family who disappeared from their nearby home six years earlier. A former colleague of Takakura says the police won’t touch the incident anymore; Takakura, his old detective instincts tingling, decides to probe further.
It’s an unfortunate name, Creepy; redolent of a 90s J-horror or maybe a post-Blumhouse jump-scare chiller, this is a far more intelligent and classy movie than its frivolous-sounding title might imply. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose last big genre movie was 2001’s cult classic Pulse, unspools Creepy at a measured pace that only occasionally begins to feel a little too languid for its own good. The economical yet effective camera work recalls Roman Polanski’s direction in movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant; both films about the evil that may or may not lurk under polite society’s veneer.
Creepy also explores another intriguing theme: the cracks and sundry resentments that can appear among husbands and wives or parents and children. Takakura’s wife fulfils the old-fashioned role of a housewife, cooking her husband’s meals, tidying up the home and feeding their dog, Max. Her growing restlessness and isolation in an unfamiliar city form their own sub-plot, running alongside Takakura’s investigations elsewhere. Without spoiling things, the way the film’s events pay all this off are thought-provoking and, depending on how macabre your sense of humour, full of blackly comic possibility.
It’s the time Kurosawa takes to introduce his characters and gradually set up his tangled mystery that make Creepy so absorbing. Takakura, his wife and even their weird neighbour have likeable sides, odd character tics and typically human failings – not unlike real people, really. It’s the clear, believable delineations of the central players that pay dividends when all the dominoes Kurosawa has set up begin to fall, and the low-key drama spins off into far more twisted, bizarre territory.
Hidetoshi Nishijima is no Jimmy Stewart as Takakura, and Creepy isn’t a classic of its genre, but it’s nevertheless cunningly plotted and satisfying in a way that thrillers seldom are these days. One image, in particular, really gets under the skin and is likely to linger there for hours afterwards.
Creepy is currently playing at the London Film Festival, and is out in UK cinemas on the 25th November.