Tuesday, 26 April 2011



When I mentioned on Twitter that I was sitting down to watch this Japanese horror movie from the director of several of the Jo-On Grudge films, I said "it had better be good", to which I almost immediately received the reply "It isn't". Expectations were accordingly lowered. And they were lowered again as the film started: it isn't a film. Well, it's a film in the accepted sense of the word as a long-form single narrative in audio-visual format made up of a series of still frames, but it's not a film in the technical sense of the word as it's shot on ungraded digital video and hasn't even had that artificial film look put onto it afterwards. The result is that it's astoundingly cheap and ugly to look at, which is a shame because it's actually okay, at least for the first hour.

The basic thrust of The Shock Labyrinth (and while we're on the subject of accurate titles, in the wake of Scream 4 or The Fast And The Furious 5: Rio Heist, which weren't the actual onscreen titles of those movies: it is The Shock Labyrinth, regardless of the lack of the The on the box art) is that ten years ago a little girl disappeared when she and her friends snuck into an abandoned walk-through theme park attraction. And on the tenth anniversary, she suddenly turns up claiming to have escaped. But when she needs to go to hospital the group all find themselves trapped once more in the spooky labyrinth where they discover what really happened that day, and who was actually to blame.

Asian horror movies can be very variable. Most of them aren't up there with the greats such as the first Ringu or the first The Eye, and there are a lot of second-rate titles cluttering up the ex-rental bins at Blockbusters. And while it wasn't entirely their fault, there were a string of American remakes that largely failed to replicate their effect (the US version of Shutter in particular is desperately poor). Too many of them were over-reliant on things like unbreakable curses, and the pasty-faced lank-haired ghost girls with jittery movements: none more so than Ju-On: the Grudge (from the same director, Takashi Shimizu) and the 43 sequels and remakes there've been.

For its first hour or so, this has a creditable stab at being one of the better ones: despite the cheap video photography it's creepy and cleverly structured in its overlap of then and now, in the manner of some of the twistier time-line stories from the rejuvenated Doctor Who. But the last half-hour or so throws it all away and it just becomes silly with the House Of Horrors dummies suddenly coming to life like Romero's zombies.

It was originally in 3D, although the DVD I saw was the flat version and while there are some scenes that would probably have used the effect quite well (suspended raindrops, falling feathers) I doubt the bulk of it would have benefitted. And there's some atrocious CGI work involving a stuffed toy bunny. It's not terrible, but it's not a masterpiece either and while there's some really good stuff in the first two thirds, it falls apart badly towards the end.


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