Taking on the horror genre can be a dicey affair. As established as the Western, there is a variety of codes and structures that the film must stay true to, while at the same time establishing itself as fresh and inventive. Many attempts have fallen at the first cliche.

With Creep, debut UK writer/director Christopher Smith makes a fair attempt at slicing a clean cut in this well-scarred territory.

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The film follows Kate (Franka Potente of Run, Lola, Run, The Bourne Identity/Supremacy, Anatomie), a sassy, confident and self-serving German, working in London as a booker for a model agency. Blowing off the unwanted advances of the swaggering Guy (Jeremy Sheffield) at a late night works do, she swigs her drinks and is off to blag her way into an exclusive club on the other side of town. Unable to get a taxi, she heads for Charing Cross tube station, buys a used travel card from a homeless girl and waits for the last train. As time passes and the booze catches up with her, she dozes off.

When she awakes, she finds the platform empty and all the exits chained up for the night. With no way out, she feels the first hint of panic and when a train pulls in she rushes on board, only to realise there are no other passengers and, as it shudders to a halt in a pitch black tunnel, her subterranean nightmare begins. With something down below now stalking Kate, an effective mix of sudden shocks, claustrophobic tension, palpable fear and gruesome death ensues.

Having honed his craft as a well-received shorts director, Smith shows an assured touch. He uses the darkened London Underground to great effect, framing shots and building sequences with a handheld camera, stitching your eye into moments of tension. Much of his visual composition pays homage to the genre, without watering it down, or palming it off as pastiche. Although not in the same league, there is a discernible lineage back to Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Smith's screenplay is solidly constructed to deliver well-above-average scares. At times, several of my fellow critics jumped, squirmed in their seats, or hid behind their clipboards. Praise indeed (depending on their dispositions beforehand).

With a filthy boot in the monster and massacre sub genres, Smith also riffs intelligently through the staple psychosexual sub context of the heroine in modern horror. Indeed, this forms as much of Kate's development as it does her stalker's background. The direction and focus shift mid-point to deliberately accommodate this and from then on the slow build gives way to shocks and adrenaline.

Special mention must be made of the original music by Bristol-based The Insects. Minimal and surging in turn, it truly makes the film work as a shocker. The sound effects are masterful in their creation of humming lights, drips, rattles, breath, crashing doors and screams to create a genuinely atmospheric environment.

Potente delivers another committed performance, as she goes from international strength to strength. Kate is pointedly dislikeable at first, which makes it hard to care for her predicament, but as a bold woman in the film's patriarchal society she serves the genre well. The other characters are more superficially defined and service the Kate/Creep dynamic. Vas Blackwood (Lock Stock...) does what he can, as a sewage tunnel worker.

Creep is not the best film out there, but fans, searching for superlative British horror to kick off 2005, should make their way to the station. Undoubtedly, it deserves the same breakout success enjoyed last year by the similarly toned Saw.

For those looking for a good scare (or three) - all aboard!

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2005
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A Brit chiller that will drag you down the tube, screaming and kicking.
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David Stanners ***

Director: Christopher Smith

Writer: Christopher Smith

Starring: Franka Potente, Sean Harris, Vas Blackwood, Jeremy Sheffield, Ken Campbell, Paul Rattray, Kelly Scott

Year: 2004

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/Germany


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