Creepy (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A possibility of unspeakable evil on the next door

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Japanese film “Creepy” works best when it plays with its insidious atmosphere. As it slowly delves into one disturbing mystery step by step along with a number of creepy insinuating moments, a possibility of unspeakable evil on the next door becomes more palpable than before, and we come to fear more for what may lie beneath its seemingly ordinary background. Something does not feel right from the beginning, and the movie keeps us on the edge with its calm but unnerving suspense until the plot unfortunately starts to unravel during its third act.

The early part of the movie revolves around how Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) try to start their life again not long after a disastrous incident shown during the opening sequence. As a detective who was also a criminal psychology expert, Koichi was fascinated with a young culprit who was evidently a textbook case of psychopath in his professional view, but he underestimated how murderous this culprit was, and his mistake led to a shocking consequence which resulted in his resignation.

At present, Koichi teaches criminal psychology at a local college, and he and his wife are mostly satisfied with their new neighborhood although their new neighbors are not very nice to say the least. There are two houses located right next to their new home on the right side, and one of them belongs to a middle-aged lady who is living with her ill mother. When Koichi and Yasuko go to her house for acquainting themselves a bit with her, she coldly responds to their sincerity, and she makes it very clear to them that she is not interested in getting friendly with them at all.

The other house belongs to a guy named Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), and the movie makes no secret about his unnerving presence right from his first appearance accompanied with a literally shady aura. While he merely looks like a socially awkward man who is often shy and clumsy in interacting with others, there is something odd and uncomfortable about this guy, and that bothers Yasuko a lot during her first encounter with him.

 

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Meanwhile, Koichi is visited by his former partner Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), who wants some assistance from Koichi for an unsolved case which also happens to draw Koichi’s interest by coincidence. Six years ago, three members of an ordinary middle-class family were suddenly vanished without any trace, and the police could not find any clue for what really happened to them. While there was an adolescent daughter who fortunately avoided whatever happened to her family, she could not help the investigation much because she was not even at her home around the time when her family was gone missing.

For his own unofficial investigation, Koichi decides to meet and interview that girl. Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi) is understandably reluctant to revisit that difficult period in her past, but she is eventually persuaded by Koichi, and there is a wonderful sequence unfolded within a college office where Saki tries to remember and tell everything she witnessed from and around her family shortly before their disappearance. While we listen to her words along with Koichi, the director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and his cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa dexterously modulates the mood via the careful control of lighting, blocking, and camera movement, and the glassy office environment insulated from another busy day at the college adds more nervous ambience to this memorable sequence. As the camera is patiently looking at Saki, we cannot help but wonder as much as Koichi. Can we trust what she tells? If she does tell the truth, who is that mysterious man who was likely responsible for the missing of her family?

The plot thickens as it becomes quite possible that Nishino is the man Koichi is looking for. Nishino seems to be living with his wife and daughter, but we do not see his wife, who, according to her husband, is too sick to go outside the house. Koichi and Yasuko meet Nishino’s teenager daughter Mio (Ryōko Fujino), and they have a nice dinner with Mio and her father, but then Mio blurts out something strange when she happens to be alone with Koichi.

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Things become weirder as we observe more strains inside the relationship between Koichi and Yasuko. Although she comes to be more unnerved and repulsed by Nishimo as much as her husband, she somehow cannot say everything to Koichi, and we see her slowly and helplessly imploded alone day by day as one dangerous possibility comes to dawn upon her husband during his ongoing investigation.

I have not read the novel of the same name by Yutaka Maekawa yet, but I can say that Kurosawa and his co-adapter Chihiro Ikeda did a good job of building narrative momentum during the first two acts of the movie. As reflected by the frequent presence of cicadas on the soundtrack, many scenes in the movie are filled with the ambience of ordinary sunny summer days, but their shaded tone subtly suggests the constant presence of darkness around the corners, and we are not surprised but terrified when the movie finally uncovers what has been hidden from us and Koichi. Kurosawa also draws good performances from his cast members, and Teruyuki Kagawa certainly has a lot of juicy fun with his potentially diabolical character while Hidetoshi Nishijima and Yuko Takeuchi are convincing in their characters’ gradual descent into darkness.

Like many similar thriller film, “Creepy” becomes less compelling once it places all of its hidden cards in front of the audiences, and its deficient third act, which is hampered by too many contrivances, is unsatisfying compared to what has been built up to that point. Despite this disappointment, the movie is still another interesting work from one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in Japan, and its dark, creeping impression of evil is surely something which will not easily go away from your mind after it is over.

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