A good premise let down by poor effects, a jumbled plot line, and a heavy reliance on the belief that “Japan=Spooky”
The film opens with a horribly mutilated man being interviewed by what appears to be a policeman and a translator. The disfigured man is shown a video of a young woman and the policeman asks where she is.
This triggers a flashback to the start of the story, A young woman named Kate is travelling to Japan with her childhood friend Chris, who recently lost his brother, to document rural temples for her university degree. When they arrive, they meet up with Kate’s boyfriend James, and do a bit of sight-seeing around Tokyo where they get a hold of a book which points them in the direction of a remote temple in the countryside. On arrival, there’s the usual ‘wary villagers warn off the travellers’ routine before a young boy shows them the way to the temple in the mountains.
Once there, the group are attacked by a spirit guarding the temple and each meet various grisly fates, with only Chris left alive, disfigured. We are then back in the present day where the policeman is continuing to interview Chris, only for the latter to spring up, attack the translator and run out of the room.
So, where to begin, because there is a lot wrong with this film.
It’s nice to see a horror film about Japanese culture set in Japan, as it lends a lot more to the supernatural side of things when your characters are immersed within the culture the legends originate from. I’ve always said that, of the slew of Asian horror remakes that came out a few years ago, The Grudge was the best and a lot of that success comes from having the remake set in Japan with Japanese actors alongside the Western ones. It’s far more believable to have someone from the area telling you about the local myths and legends, rather than having your characters Google it, or just happen to have a convenient friend who is an expert.
Unfortunately, this has also led to the film heavily relying on what I like to call the ‘Japan Effect’, where the film maker has equated a foreign culture with ‘otherness’ and believes that is enough to make something scary.
Just because something is from a culture different to ours should not immediately make it frightening or disturbing, which is what this film tries to do. The monk, the Kitsune, the temple; these are all normal parts of Japanese culture with little to no negative connotations, and yet they are portrayed here as ‘evil’, simply because they exist.
One shining light in the dark for this movie were the scenes in the abandoned mine, those looked good! It’s a gorgeously creepy area, and seeing Kate legging it around with her flashlight was awesome to watch. Sadly, it only lasts a few minutes before we’re catapulted back into nonsense.
Oh, where do I begin? It’s like they didn’t bother writing actually people but just lumped a bunch of stereotypes together.
First we have Chris, the artistic one who speaks Japanese for some reason and only looks at people through the curtains of his hair. He also has a dead brother, which is mentioned once at the start and then never again.
Then there’s James, who sits firmly in arsehole-boyfriend territory and who is totally-not-jealous-of-Chris. Yawn. He also cheats on Kate while the boys are at a club, which Chris films, but then is never brought up again. So, they probably just added that scene to show what an arsehole James is, in case you couldn’t already tell.
And finally we have Kate, who was created by picking Girl 1# from the first Sims game, and then they just added a bobble hat and hiking boots and hey presto! The Girl Character.
None of these characters do or say anything that makes you identify or sympathise with them throughout the movie, so when they meet their grisly fates later, you honestly couldn’t care less.
When you actually see the monster in full for the first time, it is genuinely quite disturbing. Unfortunately, any fear it may have generated is instantly destroyed in the next sequence as we see one of the actors running away from what can only be described as a Ray Harryhousen reject. Seeing the monster in the flesh, so to speak, ruins any of the horror it may have created because it looks just so clunky. It’s clear someone in a suit and the ropey effects made to increase it’s ‘creepy’ effect just make it look like that marionette xenomorph from Alien: Covenant.
The monster, from what I could gather, is supposed to be a Kitsune; a fox-spirit shape-shifter. However, this antagonist has clearly fallen into the ‘do the bare minimum research possible’ trope for finding monsters based on folklore, because this doesn’t appear to have any connection to the Kitsune of Japanese legend. Traditionally, Kitsune fall into two categories; benevolent or mischievous. Rarely are they aggressive or murderous for the sake of it, so not sure where the writers of this film got their background material. More likely it was a cursory glance at Japanese myths, a quick ‘that one looks scary’ and then the ‘folk lore’ was adapted to fit the film’s narrative. It’s lazy at best and downright insulting to the source material at its worst.
The Plot Holes
So many plot lines and narratives are randomly brought up and dropped within this movie, it’s like five different writers all took a run at it at some point. Chris’ dead brother is mentioned at the start of the film, supposedly explaining his need for the trip, but there is no mention made again, and to be fair, Chris seems rather happy-go-lucky for someone supposed to be grieving.
With 20 minutes left of the film, Kate randomly brings up to Chris how she aborted her and James’ baby but never told him about it. This comes out of nowhere and does absolutely nothing to further the plot other than give James a convenient reason to run off into the woods alone when Kate eventually confesses to him.
Next up in plot hole territory is the murdered children story line, which kicks off the film with a series of newspaper articles and a mysterious book titled ‘Folk Tales’. This thread gets a bit more meat on it than some of the other stories, but it never comes to any satisfying conclusion. We find out in dribs and drabs that a group of children went missing near the temple and a local monk was blamed for their disappearance. The parents of the children then murdered the monk, but the children were never found.
One of the murdered children meets Chris near the start of the film and allows him to buy the mysterious ‘Folk Tales’ book that Kate tried to buy earlier but was refused by the seller. The child then shows up again later and guides the three travellers to the temple before leaving them to their fate. What isn’t made clear is why this ghost child appears at all. The other murdered children are later shown to be malicious and drive Chris to mutilate himself (or mutilate him themselves – it’s not made clear), but the ghost child from before isn’t present at this point, so is he the one good spirit of the bunch? If so, why lead the travellers to their deaths in the first place?
Also, I’ve not done a spoiler alert for mentioning that the child Chris meets is a ghost because, unless you’ve never watched a horror movie or read a ghost story in your entire life, you will see this ‘big reveal’ a mile off.
There’s also a bit about an abandoned mine, which is simply there to give Kate somewhere to run around in later, and a recurrence of figures with missing eyes, which I’m not going to look into further because I truly believe it was done because missing eyes as an effect looks kinda creepy, and that’s it. It does nothing for the plot.
The biggest downfall for me was the overly confused narratives. There doesn’t appear to be a cohesive story here. I’m all for having tales that require the audience to fill in some of the gaps, leaving interpretation open, but this film just doesn’t seem to know what story it wants to tell.
On one hand, we’ve got a ‘man goes crazy and murders his friends under the influence of an evil entity’, then there’s the ‘children murdered by monk come back for vengeance’ thread, and then there’s also the ‘Kitsune guardian kills visitors to its temple’ story. There is a chance all three of these threads could be told simultaneously, if done correctly, but why? It’s like the writers couldn’t decide which story to tell and so lumped them all together without any thought on how they would interact.
With all its flaws, it would be easy for me to say ‘don’t bother with this film’, but I always believe people should watch things for themselves. so have at it, but don’t expect to see anything new – or anything that makes sense for that matter.