Monday, June 27, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Creepy

Cops and serial killers have trouble retiring. At least, Det. Koichi Takakura gives it a try. However, the freshly appointed criminology professor is soon investigating an unsolved family disappearance as part of his academic research. Of course, this case will hit close to home, as they often do in serial killer movies. So it goes when Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to his macabre roots with Creepy (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

The Honda family disappearance is still somewhat notorious in this sleepy suburban district. For some reason, the mother, father and son up and vanished, leaving behind the daughter Saki while she was away on a class trip. Her memories of that time are rather confused when Takakura interviews her, but she seems to think her missing family members often made calls to a shadowy stranger.

Meanwhile, the Takakuras struggle to adapt to suburban life. The next door neighbor Nishino is particularly baffling. One day he is rude and hostile. The next day he is eager to make nice. Takakura is inclined to give him a wide berth, particularly when his daughter Mio claims he is not really her father, but he somehow seems to make inroads charming his wife Yasuko. Eventually, these two strands will intersect, because the narrative would be an ungainly mess if they didn’t.

Even though we can see the general direction Creepy is headed, the first two acts are eerie as heck. Nobody does ominous atmospherics and evil foreshadowing better than Kurosawa. Unfortunately, the final twenty minutes or so play out more-or-less by-the-numbers. Still, even though Kurosawa stops springing surprises, he has us sufficiently invested to see it through.

Hidetoshi Nishijima (who memorably got the snot beat out of him in Amir Naderi’s Cut) broods like a king as the possibly too-intense Takakura. Yet, somehow Teruyuki Kagawa manages to consistently up-stage him and everyone else as Nishino, who lives up to Kurosawa’s title and then some. Ryoko Fujino manages to be almost as unsettling, yet also disturbingly vulnerable as Mio. Max the Takakuras’ dog is cool too—and he has a significant, but not corny role to play.

It is good to see Kurosawa come back to the dark side, even though Journey to the Shore and REAL are both beautifully poignant films. There is more than enough of his master touch in Creepy to please his admirers and general fans of the serial killer genre. Recommended rather enthusiastically, Creepy screens this Wednesday (6/29) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.