Following the mysterious deaths of a group of students, a rookie female reporter investigates links to an urban legend revolving around a cursed video tape. The movie that started it all. An international sensation that spawned several sequels as well as an American remake. So how does this 1998 original hold up? Well, what Japanese horror does well and this does equally well is that ‘unsettling stillness’. Dark Water, by same director Hideo Nakata, avoids clichéd jump scares or gore, favouring gradual menace this movie cemented and made a genre all its own. Add influences from traditional Japanese folklore, and traditional detective stories as well as Japanese ghost stories spawned what we now know as J-horror.
More an eerie drama than full-on scare-fest, this feels rather lightweight despite its reputation, even though that slow burning ticking clock plot device helps deliver a sense of dread that makes that famed, often satirised and copied ending all the more powerful. However, performances are largely only passable and often overly theatrical. Thankfully, Nakata’s direction is restrained but suitably creepy, helped by a great sense of unease if avoiding full on chills mostly., and that incredibly effective, freaky soundtrack does crank up the horror. Yet overall, this is rather dated today and the plot doesn’t make much sense, leaving many questions unanswered. A girl trapped in a well, a curse, deaths but er… how does that connect to videotapes? It seems to me like a convenient plot device. It’s also to me this was a clear influence on recent cult hit ‘It Follows’ amongst other movies.
The new 4k restoration from Arrow Video boasts a decent picture with effective sound treatment in DTS HD master audio 5.1. The movie is rather stilted and bland to look at yet this only adds to it’s atmosphere. Extras consist of a fascinating commentary from film historian David Kalat. We also get a complete version of the cursed video (date you watch it?) and several worthwhile featurettes. There are also trailers and a photo gallery. Decent treatment for a classic that whilst diluted by modern standards, still deserves its place in horror movie history. And yes, I prefer it over its Hollywood remake.
Lockhart, a somewhat over-worked executive (Dane DeHaan) is given the task to travel to Switzerland to locate an illusive CEO of the company he works for, which is facing financial problems. However on arrival at a hospital where the wealthy go for ‘the cure’ Lockhart begins to suspect something dark and sinister is afoot.
It’s not hard to gleam Shutter Island vibes from this, what with the lead’s more than passing resemblance to a somewhat younger Leonardo DiCaprio and a setting of a creepy, isolated sanatorium with stories of a violent history. Add to this a lead doctor (Jason Isaacs) who may or may not be up to no good, and I was half expecting Lockhart’s dead wife to turn up. Gore Verbinski however is a good enough director to take such inspiration and lavish it with his own distinct style, albeit with a reliance on animal imagery he used so well in the Ring remake (yup, Deers and Cows are officially symbols of impending doom). Add to this often breath-taking cinematography and this is one eye-catching movie.
When the final twist reveals itself, it’s so blatantly sign-posted that it proves not all that surprising … but paves the way for a decidedly old-school, Hammer-horror inspired climax that works well. However I was left questioning a few things that are not explained.
Dane DeHaan may not be the most interesting leading man but his look and performance suit the eerie, freaky mood. It’s a tad over-long with a first act that drags and some of the more freaky moments confuse (the steam baths scene, the eels). However it nails the setting and has an intriguing mystery, making this still worth your time.
Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen. However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face). So my attention waned. Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.
Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it. Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband. Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment. Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread. Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness. I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here. Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here. The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment. It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self. One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.
As expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release. Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie. I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read. Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective. We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD. Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes. No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.
Well this past week or so I have been playing The Evil Within. This is Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s latest foray into the world of survival horror and marks a return to form for the genre following the poorly received Resident Evil 6 and the cut & paste Silent Hill reboots. I am enjoying it a great deal and it really feels suitably freaky and gruesome. Mikami is a master at videogame design and pacing and this has it in spades.
Atmosphere is superb and the story, for what it is … is fairly vague and trippy (the game jumps from one hallucination to the next and levels don’t follow a linear path as far as narrative is concerned). There is a hub level where you save your game but this is also weird … a hospital or mental asylum where only a single (sort of attractive) nurse keeps you company and you go back and forth from the various levels by looking into a mirror. You can also upgrade your abilities and weapons here by sitting in a chair that locks you in securely and clamps some sort of thing on your head … very Saw. This game borrows heavily from various sources but has influences from Saw, Japanese horrors like The Ring and The Grudge and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s like a greatest hits of horror – and I am loving it.
Take a look at this gameplay demo for a good idea of this game’s tone:
The game is fairly lengthy also and I am in chapter 7 so far and know there are at least 11 chapters in total along with a new-game plus mode which I’m guessing lets you replay chapters with all your upgrades intact. The game keeps to the Resident Evil formula with you having very limited ammo, getting weak from running, you can die very easily and you need to scavenge for supplies by opening boxes or breaking crates. There are also a few basic puzzles to keep you occupied. The main draw here though seems to be the boss battles, something Mikami is especially good at, and so far I’ve faced such creations as a chainsaw wielding psychopath, a freaky spider-lady and a rabid mutant dog … shudder, all brilliantly staged with plenty of clever foreshadowing (you get to creep past the dog’s massive cage in one sequence as it sleeps, leading up to a very tough encounter with the angry mutt).
If you’re after a game that’s a real throwback to the heyday of survival horror but with the big-budget stylings of Hostel or Saw … this has it. It’s not easy, will challenge you but if you enjoy this style of game you’ll love every second.
Not all horror remakes are bad, and some can bring a lot to an old concept, ultimately improving upon it … yet last night I sat down and watched on television the remake of Japanese cult horror The Ring. Ok, it starred Naomi Watts, had a decent director (Gore Verbinski) and was fairly well put together on a technical basis. Much like the original too, the use of a creepy videotape and hallucinations helped build an unnerving atmosphere. Yet then the movie does the unthinkable, and humanizes the character of the evil girl, this time named Samara, by showing footage of her time in a psychiatric hospital, and instead of the horrible vision of a small figure with hair over their face, we see it’s actually just a very troubled child. Naomi Watts over-acts somewhat from the very beginning and frankly her young son is creepier than Samara, which just baffles me. Now looking back at the original ‘Ring’, I recall only glimpses of the girl, Sadako, a flash of a hand with no fingernails, the same creepy atmosphere, but very little humanization – and you never saw her face. This then makes the ending something of horror legend, copied in the remake, much more terrifying as what crawls out of that TV and stands up to scare its victim to death, is not human, but pure evil – and just a close up of a blood-shot eyeball is all the viewer gets. In the remake we see the girl, albiet zombiefied, but still a girl, with a stern pissed off look, and guess what – it’s not scary. Well done remake. You just killed the money shot! Continue reading →
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