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by Jay Seaver

"The title doesn't lie; it's a definitive creepy neighbor."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There aren't a whole lot of filmmakers who can name their new film "Creepy" and have potential audiences nod along, saying that's probably to be expected, and be genuinely excited about what that means. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is among their number, though, and though he's spent much of the last few years falling in other genres and media, he's back at the thing he does better than anybody else here, a mystery story that gets even stranger as the solution comes into view.

Creepy opens with a familiar hook, as well-respected Detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) interrogates a psychopath and it goes badly, enough to get him to quit the force and, some months later, start teaching criminal psychology in a suburban university, moving into a small house with wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi). He's well-enough known that a local detective asks him to consult on a bizarre cold case that has haunted him for years (the parents of a young girl mysteriously disappearing), but something closer to home may be more puzzling: The man two doors down, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), lives behind a gate and runs alternately hot and cold about interacting with his neighbors, perhaps sure to his wife being ill, and daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) can be just as erratic, at one point saying that Nishino is not her father, but a complete stranger.

It is, perhaps, familiar territory for the Japanese horror auteur, a seemingly normal reality that becomes increasingly unnerving as closer examination reveals malignant layers underneath, potentially shattering the sanity of those who come into contact with it. Here, perhaps, the exposure to that sort of madness is self-inflicted, a domino effect of Takakura trying to fundamentally change his life, metaphysically if not directly. Attempts to deny his identity as a detective inevitably lead him to stranger situations even as the move means Yasuko has trouble fitting in. Kurosawa, co-writer Chihiro Ikeda, and original novelist Yutaka Maekawa do not necessarily feel the need to connect every thread, but they make sure that everything is thematically close, and that theme of dangerous reinvention is unnerving throughout.

Not that Kurosawa settles for just having a creepy idea - no, he uses that to push the audience into a place where they might start to buy into things getting ugly, plunges deeper into the purely human darkness, and then somehow manages to shift into utterly insane material that makes a viewer wonder where one even finds that sort of vacuum-sealing equipment. It is, truthfully, quite remarkable what Kurosawa does here; as much as he sets thing up in such a way as to inevitably have unsettling resolutions, the details are outre enough to shock but presented in such a way that they're not entirely surprising. Things get nasty, but the fact that seemingly reasonable people can be disconnected from reality is the largest part of what makes the last act queasy. It's in all of us, not just the completely insane.

Teruyuki Kagawa brings the bulk of the insanity on-screen, given a weird neighbor to play and not a whole lot of maneuvering room to make Nishino anything but apparently unstable. So he dives right in, pushing every bit of hostility or attempt to ingratiate just far enough to make everyone uncomfortable, managing to make the swings from one to the other during a given scene very strange without full-on ranting and raving. He does the most of anybody to make the film live up to its title in the first half, and as the audience gets a clearer look at what he's actually up to later on, his straightforward presentation is a different sort of delight.

He's most obviously aided and abetted by Ryoko Fujino as Mio; the teenage girl who drops disturbing-if-true accusations in a deadpan manner is a bit more of a familiar piece of these movies, and Kurosawa uses Fujino to almost ground Kagawa's Nishino - one of them could easily be pushing the other off the beam, but who? Their flagrantly odd act often overshadows impressive work by the rest of the cast, especially Hidetoshi Nishijima and Yuko Takeuchi, who as Takakura and Yasuko find themselves a little out of sorts by the situations they're thrust into, niftily building it up until they're going unexpectedly dark places. Haruna Kawaguchi makes the orphaned girl from he cold case suitably devastating, her seeming abandonment leaving a deep scar six years later.

There are moments when Kurosawa pushes things a bit too far, and it's the sort of horror movie where the endgame can lead to a lot of questions about how the villain is either impossibly good at predicting outcomes or incredibly lucky not to be caught by now, especially as it drags out a bit. But, even as those faults start to work their way in, there's still little doubt that the film lives up to its title: It is definitely a creepy couple of hours, showing that there is still room to be surprised by what can be found lurking in suburbia.

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originally posted: 10/23/16 16:04:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Berlin Film Festival For more in the 2016 Berlin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/05/16 David Hollingsworth A scary depiction of suburban falsity. 5 stars
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