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Subways and samurai

Creep is pretty much your standard nouveau horror flick (see also Cabin Fever, Cube, etc.). Franka Potente is trapped in the London Underground late at night, and must flee a scary homicidal creature who kills and eats for reasons never exactly explained. It’s pared down, tense throughout, self-aware, and so forth. I left feeling sort of apathetic, though.

I was scared — Christopher Smith is a dab hand with the jump scare. He’s also really good at using the well-lit Underground in contrast with dank side tunnels for effect; light is not a significator for “safe” in this movie. Perhaps in accordance with this, the monster is fully revealed about two thirds of the way through — no shadows. That worked fairly well, I thought. It means the movie was working without a net, however.

Tension-wise, that was fine. Smith got tension even when we knew exactly what the thing looked like. On the other hand, he veered into Grand Guignol territory with at least one scene that I found gratuitous; it didn’t raise the tension, it didn’t make the monster scarier, it didn’t raise the threat level for the protagonist, and it didn’t reveal a whole lot about the backstory.

What you had, I think, is a bad script. (Smith both directed and wrote.) This shows in a few places. The mythology of the monster is somewhat muddled. There’s a nice bit where the monster’s presence is signified by the arrival of rats, but there’s no reason why that would happen — he’s probably not a supernatural evil — and the rats are more or less dropped after a couple of scenes.

Further, and probably the most damning, Potente’s character is not sympathetic. She’s kinda shallow, she’s distinctly bitchy, and she’s too dumb for words. Yeah, dumber than your usual slasher movie hero. The first time she failed to do the smart thing, I lived with it. The second time I got a little grumpy. The third time I considered rooting for the monster. She wasn’t just dumb, she was obtrusively dumb. Also not sympathetic. In fact, she was kind of wimpy.

So about middle of the road, all in all. The directing was really good; Smith probably just needs to not direct his own scripts. And Potente was excellent, unsurprisingly.

OK, so, now, Izo

I got nothing. I walked out of the theater completely baffled. I can’t say good, I can’t say bad. Izo, who was a real historical figure, is executed in the 1800s and returns to cut his way through everything that stands between him and… something. The Emperor? He’s the irrational, we’re told, expelled by a perfect rational system. His karma is so horrible that he’s made to suffer in this way. There’s a folk singer who shows up from time to time to advance those themes. He dies, he comes back, he kills more people. He is the embodiment of rage. Towards the end, he meets up with a woman who says she’s part of his spirit, and that she was supposed to meet him but hasn’t. She’s the compassionate part. The mysterious council of rulers explain that they’ve created an illusion in order to maintain perfect control. (They do wind up dying, yes.) Izo reaches the Emperor, worn out from his struggles — kills the guards, one of whom then transmutes into a caterpillar — and…

Is blown over by a single breath from the Emperor. Then, over the credits, the folk singer explains that “You are free to go anywhere.”

I got nothing. Maybe it’s about rejecting control, but Izo loses, so who knows? The historical Izo was an assassin who killed supporters of the Shogunate. Seriously, I got nothing, and I can usually engage with Miike movies. Or Lynch movies. But this was beyond me.

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