Friday, July 11, 2008

REVIEW: Infection - Masayuki Ochiai (2004)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

I won’t go into details, but it’s been a stressful week, so last night I didn’t want to watch any landmarks of Japanese cinema, no beautifully shot but difficult New Wave experiments, nothing indie, artsy or otherwise. My brain just needed something cheesy and entertaining, the kind of DVD that you pick up in a previously viewed bin at a Blockbuster for $5.00, so that’s what I popped in, a DVD that I fished out of a bin (but at Rogers not Blockbuster) for exactly $5.00: Masayuki Ochiai’s 2004 hospital horror film “Infection”, and all I can say is I got what I paid for: a film that was creepy and shlocky in equal measure, but that left me a bit sad; sad because at its core it had some interesting ideas and in the hands of a more capable director it could have been so much more.

The story centers around the skeleton crew of a nearly bankrupt hospital. They’re low on basic supplies, their emergency room is overcrowded, the nurses that they do have are inept, the doctors stressed to the breaking point and the hospital director seems to have gone AWOL. (Just another day in the Ontario healthcare system. Oops! Did I just say that?) On top of all this they keep getting ominous sounding radio dispatches from an ambulance that is on route with a man suffering from a boiling fever and unusual rash. Things are so bad that doctors Akiba (Kôichi Satô) and Uozumi (Masanobu Takashima) are about ready to walk, but a code blue is called on a burn patient so they’re forced back into action. Crowded at his bedside Akiba, Uozumi and their staff feverishly try to resuscitate their patient, but in a split second something goes terribly wrong. A young nurse misunderstands Dr. Akiba and accidentally administers calcium chlorate instead of chloride and kills the man and the staff feels that there’s nothing left to do but cover up the death. How could things get any worse? Well… when the ambulance carrying the frighteningly ill patient arrives things get much, much worse.

Ochiai, who also penned the screenplay for “Infection” (basing it on a story by Ryoichi Kimizuka) gives form to the stress and the guilt by having the ambulance finally arrive at the hospital and drop off its passenger, a man suffering from a mysterious and highly contagious infection that has him literally melting into a puddle of green goo, and it’s here where the film falls into the same laughable slip in logic that so many horror films suffer from. We’ve seen the scenario play itself out a million times before: a young couple buys a haunted house, the ghosts start kicking up a fuss, so what would logic dictate? LEAVE! But of course they don’t, they stick with their investment. A deadly and very unfriendly alien species is discovered, one that likes to kill people in various creative ways, so again, what would logic dictate? LEAVE! But, no… let’s study this crazy critter. So while one by one the hospital staff starts going insane and then bleeding green goo out of their eyes and ears a third (and very creepy) doctor, Dr. Akai convinces everyone that they should study this strange undiscovered pathogen, and of course there’s that business about the Hypocratic Oath and doing no harm and treating patients and yadda-yadda-yadda. I don’t know, but if people started freaking out and turning into green goo I’d only have one thought in my head: LEAVE!

There are some actually spooky moments in “Infection” and the idea of having the collective guilt of the staff and the feeling of neglect of the patients manifest itself as a horrific infection has all the hallmarks of the body horror of directors like David Cronenberg or Shinya Tsukamoto. Unfortunately neither of these filmmakers helmed “Infection”, so we end up with an entertaining, but over the top and sometimes silly entry into the J-Horror canon. Still, maybe newly elected Ontario Healthcare Minister David Caplan should take a look see at this one. I’m just sayin’…!

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