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Three Horror Films from Tartan

Marebito (April 10/11)

An almost stunningly incompetent piece of work, Marebito follows Japanese cameraman Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) as he becomes obsessed with fear after witnessing a suicide - with his journey eventually leading him to a mysterious, blood-craving girl called F (Tomomi Miyashita). There's little doubt that Marebito alienates the viewer right from the get-go, as filmmaker Takashi Shimizu proves unwilling (or unable) to provide attributes designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest. Instead, Shimizu, working from Chiaki Konaka's screenplay, offers up a series of absolutely endless sequences in which Tsukamoto's one-note character wanders from locale to locale - with the aggressively tedious atmosphere heightened by Masuoka's laughably pretentious and utterly meaningless voice-over narration (ie "They didn't see something that terrified them. They saw something because they were terrified.") It subsequently goes without saying that Shimizu's ongoing efforts at establishing an ominous, sinister vibe fall completely flat, while the director's increased reliance on elements of an eye-rollingly surreal variety - ie Masuoka stumbles upon an expansive, mountainous underground city - ensures that the movie grows more and more infuriating as it progresses. The final half hour, which is devoted solely to Masuoka's grisly efforts at keeping F alive, is about as anticlimactic and pointless as one might've expected, which effectively cements Marebito's place as one of the most appallingly inept efforts within the consistently underwhelming J-horror canon.

no stars out of

Memento Mori (January 22/13)

Memento Mori follows two high school students, Yoo Shi-eun (Lee Young-jin) and Min Hyo-shin (Park Ye-jin), as they attempt to keep their romantic feelings for one another a secret from their various colleagues, with Shi-eun's subsequent efforts at breaking away from Hyo-shin eventually pushing the latter towards a grisly plunge of the school's roof. From there, Hyo-shin begins haunting the school for reasons that are never made entirely (or remotely) clear - with the narrative unfolding primarily from the perspective of yet another student (Kim Min-sun's Soh Min-ah). Filmmakers Tae-Yong Kim and Kyu-Dong Min have infused the early part of Memento Mori with an infuriatingly uneventful feel that is, to put it mildly, disastrous, with the bulk of the movie's first half devoted to long, pointless stretches in which the uniformly one-dimensional and hopelessly undeveloped characters participate in a variety of mundane happenings (eg they recite poetry, they film each other's exploits, they play musical instruments, etc, etc). There's little doubt, too, that the "spooky" elements within Kim and Min's half-baked screenplay fare just as badly (ie this stuff is more laughable than scary), while the film's second half, which is disjointed to the point of incoherence, lurches from one needless set-piece to the next before finally arriving at a conclusion that's almost comically baffling. The end result is a frustratingly and aggressively boring endeavor that's as amateurish as it is misguided, and it's rather stunning to note that a North American studio thought that this garbage heap of a movie was worth releasing on home video.

no stars out of

Vital (January 26/13)

A typically worthless endeavor from noted hack Shinya Tsukamoto, Vital follows Tadanobu Asano's Hiroshi Takagi as he emerges from a car crash unable to remember anything about his life - including the girlfriend (Nami Tsukamoto's Ryôko Ooyama) that was killed in the deadly collision. In an attempt at recovering his memories, Takagi discovers several textbooks and subsequently decides to resume his studies at a local medical school - with problems ensuing as Takagi is eventually assigned the task of dissecting the corpse of his aforementioned girlfriend. It's a straight-forward and promising setup that's employed to hopelessly incoherent effect by Tsukamoto, as the filmmaker's refusal to offer up a hint of context or character development holds the viewer at arm's length from start to finish (ie it's never clear just what's going on or what's driving Takagi forward). The film's hands-off atmosphere is compounded by Asano's infuriatingly deadpan/wooden turn as the one-dimensional protagonist, and there's little doubt that Takagi's increasingly aimless/baffling exploits will test the patience of even the most sedate viewer. By the time the laughably nonsensical ending rolls around, Vital has clearly established itself as just another in a long line of contemptible and absolutely inconsequential efforts from Tsukamoto - with the talentless director's continued ability to find funding for his epically loathsome projects nothing short of astounding.

no stars out of

© David Nusair