Review : Ju-On (The Grudge) / 呪怨 (2002)

Ju-On : The Grudge was directed by Takashi Shimizu and released in 2002. The film is part of the Ju-On franchise which consists in 12 feature films (9 japanese productions and 3 american ones). Ju-On is based on Japanese folklore and more specifically on the Kayako urban legend about a woman murdered by her husband who comes back as a vengeful ghost.

Volunteer social worker Rika stumbles across the curse when she finds an almost catatonic old woman in a shambles of a home, a spooky little boy with a froggy voice and a veritable black hole of a phantom that seems to be sucking the life from the old lady. The story then jumps back and forth along the timeline in a series of chapters named for the characters haunted and hunted by the unsettled souls. (source : Wiki Asia)

Ju-On takes the concept of a haunted house to a whole new level. As in many Japanese horror films, what stands out the most is the creepy and unsettling atmosphere. It is well-directed and every ghost apparition is shot in the most frightening way possible. The pacing is slow but it works much better than Ringu, in my opinion. The slow rhythm of the film only increases the fear in anticipation of what’s coming next. I thought it never disappointed. The scenes which were meant to scare…frightened me beyond belief ! You won’t look at staircases or beds the same way after watching Ju-On.

The story is told in chapters, each one focusing on different characters. This is a minor flaw as I found it sometimes difficult to sympathize with characters you know you’re not going to spend too much time with. The storytelling is overall a bit chaotic.

The most important part of Ju-On is, of course, the ghosts. Their “design” is so simple that it is genius. They are just people with white make-up on. But Shimizu focuses on one element, which alone constitutes the scariest feature of the ghosts : the eyes. Oh, those eyes ! Oh, the horror ! I still get chills just thinking about them. Every single scare is accompanied by effective sounds which will make your skin crawl.

Though the structure of the film is all over the place, Ju-On is a fantastic film. It is, along with Ringu, a great entry to discover J-Horror. I highly recommend it.

 

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Review : Ringu / リング (1998)

Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata, was released in 1998 and catapulted Japanese Horror (now know as J-Horror) on the international scene.

The film opens with two teenage girls discussing a videotape one of them saw. The legend says anyone who watches this tape will die seven days later. It just so happens that it has been  a week since the girl and three of her friends watched the cursed tape. The next day, all four teenagers are found dead, under mysterious circumstances. Reiko, a reporter whose niece is one of the victims, decides to investigate these strange deaths. During her research, she finds the tape and watches it. The phone rings and Reiko’s seven days begin. She must unravel the mystery of the cursed tape to save herself, helped in her quest by her ex-husband.

The opening sequence works perfectly at establishing the essence of Ringu. The premise of the film is brilliant in every way : a tape, one of the most common items found in the house,  is the object through which terror is unleashed. Ringu (as well as Pulse) established the link between technology and horror, a subject which is more than relevant in today’s society. Thankfully, Ringu is a product of the 1990’s ! I cannot imagine Ringu having the same impact if the VHS was replaced by a digital file (it sure didn’t work in Rings, in my opinion).

The film is very quiet and slow-paced. It takes its time to set up the characters and develop its story. The general atmosphere is unnerving throughout the entire film. The director made the smart choice of not showing much, making you paranoid and scrutinizing the screen. Ambiance and sound rather than jump scares are what make Ringu such a creepy experience. There is a constant sense of dread and the low lights and cold colors convey a sort of sadness.

The only flaw of Ringu is the character of Ryuji (the ex-husband) who knows too much about everything. He almost ruins the mystery by solving it with such ease. You are left a bit frustrated when he reveals everything. But what permanently ruined his character for me was his psychic abilities. I thought it was completely out-of-place and an absolutely unnecessary addition to the plot.

Ringu is a very important film in cinema history and it introduced a wider audience to Japanese horror films. With no gore or jump scares but a spooky vibe that you feel  even in slower parts, the film gets under your skin. I also recommend the remake which I have a new appreciation for since watching the original.