You know those genteel old English gothic horror movies? The ones from Hammer and its imitators? Those aren't the face of British horror anymore. British horror in the 21st Century has been brutal, gritty, and modern. It's shot through with the grit of British noir and has a sense of disillusion, a sense of things being wrong in the world distinctively its own. One of the new British horror directors is Christopher Smith, who is at home out in the woods or in the middle ages or in the London underground. Rural or urban, Smith sees the world through crap colored glasses. This all appears fully formed in his first feature, 2004's Creep, in which Franka Potente gets herself trapped in the subway system after hours only to find that she's not alone. There's another world under the city, and it's not the twee fantasy world of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but the abattoir of Gary Sherman's Raw Meat.
The film follows Kate (Potente), who works at a modeling agency. She leaves a late night party because she hears about another party where rumor has it she might be able to meet George Clooney. Unable to get a cab, she resorts to the underground, where waiting for the last train, she falls asleep. When she wakes up, the place has been closed up. She's stranded alone. Soon another train comes along, perhaps heading back to its home station, and she hops on, followed by Guy, a creepy guy from her work who has followed her. Guy is totally smitten with her and won't take no for an answer. During an attempted rape, guy is violently dragged from Kate and onto the tracks. Kate gets goes to find help only to find that not only is she not alone--there are homeless people and security guards in the underground after hours--but someone is killing the people who ARE there.
Basically, this is a survival movie, and as such, it's not really anything new under the sun (or underground). When you're dealing with generic material, it all comes down to the execution. The loneliness and terror of isolated, forgotten night-time places is a reliable theme for horror movies and Creep exploits this for all that it's worth. This was filmed at a disused tube station and its sense of place is palpable. This grounds the film in reality before rampaging off into horror, and it's omnipresent. It's a time honored technique and it works a charm here. Once the horror film kicks in, the filmmakers twist the knife. Smith has an eye for grottiness over and above the idiom he's working in, and he finds terrific settings for his mayhem. The scene at an abandoned underground surgery, absurd as it is, is riveting. The claustrophobia of being trapped underground has a kick all its own over and above the horrors presented by the plot. Some other elements aren't as strong.
The movie gets itself into trouble, I think, with its monster. "Craig" is striking to look at, but when you get right down to it, he's a variant of the Sawney Bean archetype. The film doesn't provide him with a specific origin in a flashback or anything so mundane, but it hints strongly that he was the product of an experiment at that forgotten surgery I mentioned. This seems a bit unbelievable to me, actually, but whatever. I suppose this can explain how he mysteriously regrows an eye after Kate puts it out with a high heel, though I don't know that this isn't just a continuity error. More disappointing is Craig's tendency to move about the film utilizing that shopworn cliche of bad horror movies, off-screen teleportation. I get that the filmmakers want to demonstrate that Kate has lost her sense of where she is during the last part of the film, but I think it might have been better to clue the audience in to the geography of scenes and to have its monster adhere to the rules of space and time. But it's not to be. It's a small knock on the film, and it ultimately doesn't hurt it much.
Creep has a magnificent punchline, though, and a nice mean streak. And it even has an interesting level of character development for its lead, which is totally unexpected. She goes from muscling through the world with her affluence and her privilege to being seen as one of the poor wretches to whom she earlier condescended. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a movie that's singlemindedly about survival, but it's nice that this one has more pressing issues on its mind.
Current tally: 20 films
First time viewings: 19
Around the Web:
Darius over at Adventures in Nerdliness falls under The Shadow of the Vampire.
Caroline over at Garbo Laughs gets lost in The Maze.
Stacia over at She Blogged By Night visits with the Shellys and the Byrons in Gothic.
The astonishing Kim Morgan over at Sunset Gun posted a terrific piece on Repulsion earlier this month, and I just fell down on the job by not posting a link.
Rod over at Ferdy on Film takes a look at the uber-creepy, soon to be remade The Woman in Black.
Pussy Goes Grrr has a queer reading of The Werewolf of London.
J. Luis over at W-Cinema takes in the waters in Sauna.