British horror underwent a bit of a renaissance in the last couple of years. Danny Boyle’s visceral 28 Days Later beat Michael Mann to the DV punch and gave us a serious and brutal horror movie. While on the lighter side, affectionate zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead proved British humour is still the best.
So in true British style, just when we start to get something right, just when it looks like we have some serious contenders who could help resurrect the British film industry, just when the world starts to take us seriously, someone comes along and puts us back to square one. Today, that someone is debutant writer/director Christopher Smith. I actually know a guy called Christopher Smith, so if it’s the same guy I’m going to give him a call and smack him in the mouth for producing the cliché-ridden, badly-acted mess that is Creep.
Kate is a vodka-swilling German socialite in the London party-scene. Her main aims in life are to shag George Clooney and spurn the advances of the lecherous Guy. Deciding to take the London subway on the way to her ill-fated plan to woo Mr Clooney, she inadvertently nods off while waiting for the train. When she wakes she finds herself alone and locked in the station and, as is always the way, stalked by a mysterious killer. With only the help of a couple of homeless squatters and a sewerage worker, Kate must try and escape the maze of underground tunnels to safety.
Creep is not short on flaws but its biggest downfall is that it has not one single truly likeable character within it’s limited cast. Our protagonist Kate is shallow, self-involved and extremely obnoxious. Something even one of the minor characters acknowledges angrily. Mixed with some genuinely awful acting by Potente, it makes her an impossible heroine to root for and you end up spending the entire running time hoping she will die a horrible death rather than survive the day. The other characters range from a sleazy wannabe rapist, a cowardly sewerage worker, a badly caricatured station guard and a couple of heroin-addled vagrants. While it’s a departure from the usual pot-smoking, sex-crazy teens it’s not enough when your least despicable person is no more than a bit-part supporting character with little to do but hang around for the inevitable death scene.
The other problem is the large gaps in logic we’re supposed to swallow. Person’s unknown lock up the stations and a guard oversees everything on CCTV, but yet we’re supposed to believe nobody noticed a comatose Kate sitting on a track-side bench before closing time and thought to wake her up and send her on her way. If that’s a regular occurrence in real life it’s no great advertisement for London Underground. It’s a sloppy and deliberate plot device used simply because nobody could think of a better way to trap Kate in the underground alone.
The surviving characters are presented with numerous opportunities to permanently dispatch or disable their murderous stalker, but instead choose to stick to the worst clichés and flap around in the background for a minute or so while the killer regains his composure. This happens several times during the climax and appears to exist for no other conceivable reason than to pad the already tight 85 minute running time. Yeah, sure it’s a horror staple you might cry, but it’s all so clumsily handled and drawn out by Smith that you find yourself shouting at the screen for someone to just whack the bastard and have done with it. Then, when the final confrontation arises it’s such an anti-climax, you wonder why you bothered at all.
The one character we haven’t really addressed yet is this killer. There isn’t any great twist or surprise to Creep that I could ruin for you don’t worry. Good horror movies will have a killer who we never fully learn about, but are fed enough tidbits throughout to make him compelling. Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman are great examples of this. In Creep however, what you get is a genetic screw-up who gruesomely kills random people simply because he is a boogeyman in a poorly written horror movie and that is his purpose. Sure there’s an attempt to try and add depth to it, but it’s all done so lazily, you know they just wanted to get on with the killing rather than having to come up with a justification for their subterranean freak. A movie like Cabin Fever, where the killer is a disease does not need to explain whys. Stalker/slasher movies do to at least some basic degree. But in Creep there’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it, making you leave the movie with a feeling that the whole exercise was rather redundant. Plus a tacked on attempt at “social commentary” in the final scene just feels insulting in a movie so dumb.
Director Christopher Smith manages to create some genuine moments of atmosphere from the claustrophobic and cloying dark of the underground system and the man is obviously a fan of David Fincher’s style but it’s clear he has no idea how to direct actors. As mentioned before, Potente chews and mangles every word of Smith’s already painfully trite dialogue. She gave a fine performance in The Bourne Identity which is what makes me suspect a lack of good direction is to blame here. In the end Paul Rattray’s Scottish junkie tunnel-dweller emerges as the only genuinely good performance but his part is so small it can’t save the movie from the being the disaster it is.
If anything Creep reeks of a lack of quality control. There are very few directors out there capable of both writing and directing their own material without someone to take them aside and say, “Hey bud, see this section here, it’s dumb or clunky or whatever. And that dialogue, nobody says that.” James Cameron and Paul W.S. Anderson represent the two extremes of this scale. Smith sits comfortably in the Anderson camp - A director who probably genuinely believes that his own written material is worthy but in reality has nothing original, interesting or particularly good to work with and has merely formed a low-rent rehash of his favourite bits from other better movies. Much like Anderson, I’d rather see him direct someone else’s material before I truly judge what kind of a director he could be, but to be honest, first impressions are that he’s yet another victim of the school of style-over-substance.
Creep is highly unoriginal and painfully unengaging. If you want a good stalker-in-the-dark movie, go rent Alien instead.