Monday, October 11, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #11: "Ju-On: The Curse"

Before Sony saw fit to give him a budget, Takashi Shimizu cut his teeth in the world of shot-on-video with Ju-On: The Curse. A prototype of his J-horror hit-to-be, this Ju-On also centers on a house that's been damned to the nth degree. A tragic event took place there some time ago, leaving behind a festering evil that claims the lives of those who dwell within its walls. As with the others in the series, the seemingly harmless abode's story is chronicled through nonlinear vignettes, ranging from three to ten minutes in length and focusing on one particular soul that comes in contact with the house. From a concerned teacher to a worried girlfriend, many fall prey to the wrath a croaking spirit that comes to scare them into an early grave. But when the curse finds its way to a frightened real estate agent, she resolves to warn potential buyers of the two stories of terror that await them.

I like to think that Takashi Shimizu is a smart guy. His work impressed and scared the hell out of Sam Raimi, who brought him to the attention of stateside horror fans and kept the Asia shock boom truckin' in The Ring's wake. Shimizu knows what's expected of him and delivers nothing less, which is why the idealist inside me wants to believe that he made six Ju-On features (counting The Grudge and its first sequel) to prove how much the premise just doesn't work. There's no other way to explain why anyone rational would regurgitate entire characters and story threads so many times, when it's been made clear that everyone in these flicks is boned from the word go (turns out there's not much suspense in nihilist horror stories). Maybe Ju-On is meant to be enjoyed in fragments; take a random frame from any ghost sequence, find the right sound effect, and boom, you have Internet screamer gold. But trying to follow an actual story or sympathize with anyone not currently undead here is as worthwhile as watching a Ringu print that's being fed through a woodchipper.

Speaking of choppy structures, let's talk about the one Ju-On: The Curse has to share with the class. To Shimizu's credit, it works better here than in some of his other movies, but it still reeks of cheating to have the turn of events jumbled around for the sake of Shimizu feeling good about bamboozling you in the easiest way possible. Plus, for a film built on the element of surprise and ghosts that appear out of nowhere, nothing really shocks you here. Even forgetting that its fellow Ju-Ons exist, you know exactly what will come to pass here (that its climactic plot twist is telegraphed by the freaking opening title card is kind of a downer, as well). Hell, I thought being video-based would help Shimizu here, since it added a lot to the film's flawed but intermittently spooky comrade Ju-Rei: The Uncanny, but no dice. The effects are crummy, the dramatic zooms are hilarious, and let's say it's not all that horrible that actors this stiff don't last long onscreen.

I want to say I read somewhere that much of Japanese cinema is based on a foundation of emotion over storytelling perfection. The ultimate goal gets more attention than the journey there, which I can totally see going on with Ju-On: The Curse. When all's said and done, it'll freak out its share of folks, but if 70 minutes of near-silence and household busywork are the best it can serve up along the way, you're better off having a grand old time doing your own damned chores.

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