(((this story originally appeared on another web site, Sorry kittlings I'm still writing my HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS review, stay tuned for THURSDAY~!)))
Ze Brickthrower has not been able to read, sleep or watch TV properly since Ju-On The Grudge entered my stratosphere. I have watched that film over 15 times and the bloody thing still makes me jump. People who have gone to horror films will say “But Mary, you jump at EVERYTHING!” and “You know you’re the one that cried in the theater while watching The Blair Witch Project.” And while these statements used to hold true, I have been schooled in the horror genre enough (with Italian Horror and early 80's specifically) to the point where I have now branched off to the Asian Horror genre on my own.
Here I go again. ”As if”, my friends might be saying. I am the girl that got scared whilst smoking a cigarette after watching The Ring because I saw a black cat and I could’ve sworn that the curtain moved by itself!
Its not that there are huge monsters or aliens or evil of epic proportions that drives the fear in Asian horror. The majority of the Asian cult that I've watched revolve around one evil place, be it a house, a village, a warehouse, where ghosts from a prior horrendous act take revenge on any who enter their space.
The camera angles are the creepiest things about these films. As a viewer, we are not allowed to see the entire picture, or we see just enough of the evil (whether it be a little boy's feet, a bloody hand, a strand of hair, or a dark water spot) to make us freeze into fear at what is about to happen. The camera sweeps above the victim as she/he slowly turns their head and looks around, but it is not until she/he swings back around is the evil in front of her, on her, clawing her or running out of frame quicker than lightening. You might miss it if you're not paying attention.
It’s this presence of evil, an evil that is always obscured, blurred, or just barely in the frame, that is what makes the genre one of the most frightening.
Although both Dark Water and The Eye had this type of camera shot down to perfection, and Ju-on exemplifies the ghost story gone extreme, the repetition is inevitable, but inevitable for any genre. Cliché comes quick as soon as anything pop culture related is given a label. But just as many people are sick of M. Night Shymalan and his “formula,” I maintain that with him and Asian cult, one scene in the entire film can make it worth your time and attention. I do not doubt this for one second. My case in point lies in the eerie and mysterious A Tale of Two Sisters.
The color in many of these films wrestles with vivid and lush hues or stark white and black imagery. A Tale… has one scene in particular that illustrates this with the simple set of a small kitchen which leads into a dining room. The kitchen is flourescent lit and bathed in white and pastel blue; a wooden 2-door wide entry way leads to dark wood and a deep red and green color scheme. In this scene in particular, the Stepmom in the film hears something and gets on the kitchen floor to peer underneath the sink. Of course this is a classic set-up; nothing new here—the audience knows that something scary is going to happen. The scene is filled with 3 things: the actor’s full face, the floor of white tile, and behind her, in clear focus and seated in the dining room table is a female (only her bottom half revealing a floor length dress) in a heavy green fabric. The Stepmom turns around quickly but the dining room is now empty. This is not the full scene, but this game of cat and mouse with the audience continues for minutes more and is enough tension to fill the entire film, let alone one act.
Some words on JU-ON THE GRUDGE written and directed by Takashi Shimizu. If you’ve seen THE RING (the American version) and were terrified by the overall creepiness and dread mood cast over every frame, then JU-ON is going to make you piss your pants. Asian Cult Cinema is the wave of the future kittlings, at least for those of us sick of the general mediocrity present in American film today. JU-ON THE GRUDGE is not the first in the series of these films, but the original is hard to find. It is not detrimental to see the first in this series to understand it, a flashback at the beginning of the film is enough of a preface. “The Grudge” being the accurate word in the title as the creepy little boy that haunts the Katsuya house certainly seems to hold quite a big one. The plot is somewhat SHINING-esque with the murder of a wife and disappearance of their child holds a house captive by evil. As we were watching the film, my esteemed colleague Ms. Irate remarked, “This is the horror PULP FICTION” and she’s totally right. The scenes are shown out of order, with separate lives and storylines converging at the Katsuya house is both smart and stylized. The plot strays from the usual “Haunted House” cliché as Toshio (the missing boy previously mentioned) is able to appear anywhere and follow his prey to the their places of employment, homes, or ever better to draw them back to the house where it all began. And to further the creepiness factor, the soundtrack is almost non-existent—a silence hangs heavy over every scene—until too late; a standard eerie horror score is put in to make the tension almost unbearable. Not once but twice I screamed out loud. I was also fidgeting like a crack fiend. I have subsequently viewed the sequel, which is just as confusing but loses some of the original luster.
Finally, let me leave you with a list of the Asian Cult that will leave you either a fiend or annoyed at me for putting you through this:
DARK WATER (soon to be an American remake starring Jennifer Connelly
JU-ON THE CURSE (the original made for TV movie; also has a sequel)
JU-ON THE GRUDGE
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS
EVIL DEAD TRAP
TOMIE (which touts 3 sequels!)