Director/Screenplay – Christopher Smith, Producers – Julie Baines & Jason Newmark, Photography – Danny Cohen, Music – The Insects, Visual Effects – Men From Mars (Supervisor – Simon Frame), Special Mechanical Effects – Flash Art (Andreas Korth, Benjamin Kütter & Daniela Schmidt), Makeup Effects – Mike Bates & Mike Stringer, Production Design – John Frankish. Production Company – UK Film Council/Film Stiftung Nordhein-Westfalen/Dan Films/zero west Filmproduktion GmBh/Blue Rider Inc.
Franka Potente (Kate), Vas Blackwood (George), Paul Rattray (Jimmy), Sean Harris (Craig), Jeremy Sheffield (Guy), Ken Campbell (Arthur), Kelly Scott (Mandy), Morgan Jones (Night Watchman)
Kate, a German girl living in London, goes to a party with some work colleagues. Kate’s friend was going to take her to a backstage party to meet George Clooney but has left without her. Kate races to the underground train to catch up with her friend. However, she falls asleep on the Charing Cross underground platform and awakes to discover that she has been locked into the station for the night. A train mysteriously appears and she gets aboard but it appears deserted. She discovers that a co-worker Guy has followed, only for him to then try to force himself on her. Something then drags Guy off and brutally attacks him, leaving him for dead. Fleeing through the tunnels, Kate seeks the help of a homeless couple to try and get out. However, the mysterious attacker comes after Kate, seeking to drag her down to its laboratory beneath the tunnels.
Creep was a striking debut from young British director Christopher Smith. Christopher Smith had previously made a handful of shorts and then swiftly announced his talent to the world with Creep. Creep clearly showed Smith as a director of considerable promise and he subsequently went onto make the amusing Backwoods Brutality comedy Severance (2006) and then did amazing things with the remarkable timeloop film Triangle (2009), the astonishing Mediaeval horror film Black Death (2010), the tv mini-series Labyrinth (2012) about the quest for the Holy Grail, the Christmas film Get Santa (2014), the thriller Detour (2016), the ghost story The Banishing (2020) and the horror film Consecration (2023). [Christopher Smith should not be confused with the American Chris Smith, the co-director of documentaries like American Movie: The Making of Northwestern (1999), The Yes Men (2003) and Collapse (2009)].
Creep‘s creepy effect starts from the prologue with two sanitation workers (Ken Campbell and Vas Blackwood) encountering something while on a routine job down in the sewers. The looming threat is constantly offset by the wry, naturalistic dialogue that Christopher Smith writes between the two men. The main body of the film begins when Smith gets Franka Potente down into the underground where things begin mounting in increasingly unnerving ways – her waking up on a deserted platform, the seemingly driverless train arriving from nowhere and then the abrupt cuts to show that the conductor is on the other side of the door with a piece of metal impaled through his glasses, the reappearance of Potente’s co-worker Guy (Jeremy Sheffield) on the deserted train and his acting sexually menacing before abruptly being grabbed by something unseen.
The film has been almost entirely constructed as a single drawn-out ride of creepy suspense. Christopher Smith keeps us in relentless tension and is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath. The most striking and unnerving scene is the one where the creature has Kelly Scott tied up in the abandoned surgery and starts prepping for what we realise is the decayed ritual of a surgical operation – pulling on rubber gloves that are falling apart, placing on a filthy surgical gown, washing its hands under taps that have no water.
Creep also manages to be a small masterpiece of sound editing. The film needs to be seen in stereo, preferably in a theatrical setting. The entire film seems alive with noises, muted screams in the distance, ominous clatterings, rattles and scrapes that seem to move right around the sound arena. Christopher Smith was able to obtain permission to film on the real London Underground. As a result, the film gains a great deal of atmosphere from the ominous labyrinth of tunnels and oases of brightly lit platforms. Creep also does not stint when it comes to gore, with the makeup job on the creature being extremely good.
One film that one ended up constantly comparing Creep to was Neil Marshall’s fine The Descent (2005). Besides both films being made by new and talented British directors with a strong grasp for horror mechanics, both take place underground – The Descent being set in a network of subterranean caverns, Creep in the actual London Underground. (Indeed, Creep is part of a mini-fad of films that came out around 2005 that included the likes of The Descent, The Cave (2005), The Cavern/Within (2005) and Caved In (2006), which all concerned themselves with creatures dwelling underground).
Although, far more than The Descent, the film that Creep most resembles is the early 70s minor cult classic Death Line/Raw Meat (1972) about the discovery of a lost society of descendents from 19th Century railway workers who were emerging up into the London Underground from the tunnels beneath to prey upon people for food. In both films, we have desiccated creatures that live down in the tunnels going through rituals that no longer have any meaning.
On the minus side, Creep often feels like a film that has been designed as one of effect rather than in terms of underlying rationale. It does strain credulity for instance that Franka Potente can be lying in plain sight on a well-lit train platform and that the station staff would somehow not notice her there or attempt to wake her before closing for the night, or that her co-worker could also manage to sneak in unnoticed and follow her onto the phantom train.
More so though, Christopher Smith never explains anything about the background of the creature that is creeping around the tunnels, about the doctor whose son it supposedly is or why it ended up with such a disfigured/mutated? appearance, and least of all why it is living in the tunnels and managing to drive trains. Nor do we get any explanation of its ability to seemingly control rats.
Franka Potente, the German actress from international hits like Run Lola Run (1998), Anatomie (2000) and The Bourne Identity (2002), was cast as part of a German co-financing deal. (This is justified by her explaining that she is a German national resident in London). For some reason, Potente is done out in a blonde hair-dye job, which does not suit her at all. Also Franka Potente tends to be a neurotic actress – I don’t think she even manages to smile once throughout Creep. You can hardly say that the character she plays is warm and charismatic or invites sympathy.
The other characterisations in the film are all well done, even the minor parts. Especially good is Paul Rattray as Jimmy the addict where Rattray plays with a wry humour that makes likeable a character that would be looked down upon in almost any other film.
(Nominee for Best Director (Christopher Smith) and Best Makeup Effects at this site’s Best of 2004 Awards).