Saturday, October 16, 2010

REVIEW: Ju-on: White Ghost

呪怨 白い老女 (Ju-on: Shiroi Roujo)

Released: 2009

Ryuta Miyake

Hiroki Suzuki
Natsuki Kasa
Akiko Hoshino
Chinami Iwamoto
Chikako Isomura

Running time: 61 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Takashi Shimizu’s original v-cinema sensation, "Ju-on". Takahashi Ichise and Toei decided it would be best to release two films, more similar in vein to the original video film than its predecessors, with Takashi Shimizu acting as supervising producer. The franchise must live on, as it seems "Ju-on: The Grudge 3" may never be made, unless its in 3-D, as that seems to be Shimizu’s foray as of late. So like the original film, short film anthology directors were chosen to take the reins. For "Ju-on: Shiroi Roujo" aka "Ju-on: White Ghost", they chose Ryuta Miyake, who had directed shorts in the Tales of Terror series.

"Ju-on: White Ghost" takes place 10 years after the events of the first film. The house that the Saeki family resided in as well as haunted seems to have been renovated quite drastically. It’s Christmas time, and the Yokota family moves into the old Saeki house, not knowing what fate awaits them. The eldest son, having failed his bar exam, starts to succumb to the same madness that consumed Takeo Saeki and which now infects this house. At the same time, the police are investigating the scene of a suicide, a dead man found with a bloody head in a duffel bag and a cassette tape that plays faint whispers of a young girl. And then theirs Akane, the high school girl with psychic powers that seems to have some strange connection to the house the Yokota family resides in.

The film utilizes the same structure as the previous "Ju-on" films, mirroring that of the anthology films the directors all got their start in. We are forced to piece things together as the narrative jumps back and forth in time, something that has become the hallmark style of any solid Ju-on film. Ryuta Miyake is able to use this structure to create a disorienting picture of the events unfolding at the Saeki/Yokota house. Miyake also adds his own bloody flare to the series, injecting more of a gruesome twist to the deaths that follow from the curse. He’s also very capable at creating a great amount of tension with each of the short segments. Unfortunately, most of that tension ends up being wasted.

You see this film is hindered by one thing that Takashi Shimizu seemed to be able to work around, bad special effects. Here, the tension builds beautifully, but then collapses into mediocrity each time the scare is revealed, and most of it is due to some truly bad SFX work. Some however is due to something much more bizarre. You see, Ryuta Miyake’s contribution to the "Tales of Terror" anthology was a short called "Full Length Mirror", and it featured a mirror and an old woman who haunts boys with a basketball. Very laughable stuff, and very telling stuff, as he manages to build tension in that short too, only to have it fall apart when you’re suppose to be jumping out of your skin. Here, Miyake borrows heavily from his short. He takes the scene with the mirror and transplants it into the Saeki house, having it unfold the exact same way, only this time, it actually sort of works, mostly because he disposed with the CG. But then for some bizarre reason, he decides to transplant the old woman with the basketball into "Ju-on". Why? I have no idea, but having an old woman, dressed in white, creeping up on people carrying a basketball in her hands is the farthest thing from scary, in fact, its mostly laughable. And it really takes away from the tension he worked so hard to build. Maybe Miyake has a fetish for basketballs? Maybe he was trying to start his own franchise of basketball ghosts? Who the hell knows? All I know is, it doesn’t work.

Toshio makes a small cameo in the film, and Miyake seems to rely heavily on other horror film tropes, such as ouija boards and cursed tapes, but this guy has a long way to go if he’s to become a competent horror film director. Luckily Shimizu had laid out the structure for him nicely, so all he had to do is fill in the blanks, and whilst he does a good job of starting off each segment with great effect, he seems to have trouble finishing his sentences effectively.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

No comments: