The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by Takashi Shimizu and starring Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, and Misa Uehara
Tagline: No tagline
Summary Capsule: Vengeful ghost takes up the viral method of curse dispersal and becomes more popular than a chain letter.
Shalen’s Rating: Three out of six inexplicable deaths by “fright.”
Shalen’s Review: Ju-on: The Grudge was written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, the same director who made Ringu. And, while it’s not a scene-for-scene ripoff of that movie, there are some themes in common. You have your vengeful ghosts. You have your dead mother/child combo. You have your long black hair and very pale makeup for said ghosts. Of course, given that the characters are Japanese, it would be a little weird for them to have, say, blond hair. This isn’t the Sarah Michelle Gellar version. You also have your dim and faded color palette, though that’s not as exaggerated here as it is in Ringu.
The film is about a house, and some dead people who occupy that house, and what happens to everyone who encounters said house and said deceased persons. That’s where the resemblance to the traditional Western notion of haunted house horror ends. The haunted residence is smallish, light, and airy, a nice condolike building with big windows and lovely wood floors. The film starts with an aide worker visiting to help care for the mother of the current residents, a nice young couple who seem unlikely to have created the cluttered mess the aide worker finds. The old lady spends a lot of time staring off into space and making creepy, cryptic remarks, because she knows she is in a horror film and being a sweet, happy old person is not one of her options. Then she is frightened to death by a black-haired creature which also scares the aide worker into a state of coma. The young couple start seeing little boys in white makeup, and we’re off to the races1.
This isn’t a film that lets you in close to its characters. There’s no clear “I’m going to live, root for me!” blond girl with unexpected strengths. On the one hand, this makes the film a little scarier because of the air of chilly detachment — the screenplay has no mercy and leads us to expect none. On the other, it detracts from the horror because we don’t have much reason to care what happens to whom. The film’s structure is interesting, but watching it is more of an exercise than a cling-to-your-seat, oh-what-was-that kind of experience. Most people have already seen its most terrifying moment parodied before they ever see the film.
About that interesting structure. This film isn’t exactly linear. It’s not backwards, like Memento, or just incoherent, like The Limey, but it does jump around. The curse of Ju-on infects not only those who enter the house, but those who are in contact with them, and it skips around among the stories of the various potential victims. Families, friends, and coworkers are not spared, even if they have no idea what killed the original victims. This leads to an ending I didn’t quite expect, but which does seem inevitable when you consider it in light of all that comes before it. It’s not a punch line/twist so much as it is a grinding halt.
Ju-on isn’t about the horror of dying alone and in pain. It’s about the infective nature of rage. The ghost doesn’t care if someone solves her mystery — her death was not a mystery to begin with, and her killer is one of the herd of specters that seem to accompany her as harbingers. She’s just angry, and in pain, and unlike many other victims, she is granted the ability to share that fatal rage with others. The results approach the apocalyptic.
This movie is more of a philosophical statement than most horror films are. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know that I would watch it again. Surreal horror has its pros and cons, and one of the cons is that if you’re not scared completely out of your mind, things don’t make very much sense. Ju-on isn’t quite frightening enough to achieve that effect. It has a few interesting details — the recurring black cat, for instance — and it has its own internal logic. To me, the difference between this and The Others was somewhat like the difference between going to a lecture on serial killers and having someone grab your shoulder from behind on a dark night.
This might not be a bad starter film for those looking to get into Japanese horror. If Ju-on gives you nightmares, don’t even think about watching Ringu. If you get through this one and go, “Brrr. But not quite,” like I did, you’re ready for something more hardcore. And if you just sat with your chin on your hand going, “Huh. Boring,” you’ve probably already seen too many of these already.2
1. It’s very difficult to actually scare a person to the point of physical dysfunction or death. I’m guessing one black-haired girl making funny noises probably wouldn’t do it.
2. And stay away from my house.
- When Rika wakes up in bed to a room full of yowling black cats, several of the cats are obviously statues. Some of them are even clearly replicas of the same statue.
- The effect of the ghosts’ influence on electronics?
- It’s not that running away doesn’t work, so much as that no one tries it.
- A house doesn’t have to be antebellum or Victorian, or even big, to be scary.
- Those ubiquitous schoolgirl uniforms.
- Solving the mystery doesn’t do a thing for you.
- That crackling noise one ghost makes reminds me of the radio in Silent Hill. It’s a new, improved ghost that comes with its own warning signal!
- A clutter of paper and food wrappers appears inside the home of whoever the next victim is. Nice touch.
Opening title crawl: Ju-on: The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Silent Hill