More intent on pissing you off than scaring you, Christopher Smith’s 2004 grungy-slick Creep throws innocent bodies in the way of Franka Potente’s numbskull actress to perish at the hands of a deformed psycho in the bowels of the London Underground. Worse than the dodgy acting and its inexplicable premise of a random loner getting away with so much indiscriminate murder, and probably on par with its arbitrary interest in sexual violence, is the introduction to and sidelining of a far more worthy hero in Paul Rattray’s Jimmy, a subway denizen whom Potente’s Kate shamelessly coaxes into abandoning his drug-addled sweetheart to help her find an exit despite the mounting weirdness around them. Nevertheless, Kate’s our gal, leaving us rooting for her swift demise before entrapping another poor soul into her luckless night.
Having no sense of where it wants to take us, the script decides on everywhere. It’s the Underground. It’s the sewage system. It’s an abandoned medical facility. The more places we go, the more amazing it is Kate can’t find the street. Sure enough, she’ll stumble into the monster’s lair, but only after two false starts and enough screen time from Sean Harris’ half Roark Jr.-half The Descent crawler villain to strip him of any lingering scariness. Knowing it’s Harris under the makeup antes up the creepiness, but once his character’s personality shifts from naive instinct to sadistic self-awareness, we kick into a different gear of subterranean black humor that makes this fleet exercise in claustrophobic horror impossible to enjoy.
Smith may have moved on to interesting fare like Triangle and Black Death, but with Creep his aesthetic is five years’ stale and his take on a bare bones setup too straightforward. Individual scenes stand on their own merits – an extended opening scene with two gabbing sanitation workers, Rattray’s brief onscreen sojourn, and a left-field interlude with a persnickety security guard (“supervisor!”) via CCTV – but they’re no more than standalone vignettes in search of better glue than Kate’s zipping between them. Had Creep been able to commit to a single tone it stands a better chance of having lasted longer in the memory, but between its unevenness and its infectious simmering anger, it makes itself a truly unpleasant experience.