“I am the mountain, the forest & the earth. I am Faun”
Pan’s Labyrinth is the film that brought Guillermo del Toro to the attention of the world & as I write this review is still his crowning glory. A truly wonderful movie that has all of del Toro’s hallmarks in abundance. It is visually stunning, wonderfully scripted & brilliantly acted. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film you really have to see at least once.
Pan’s Labyrinth starts with a fairytale introduction. Princess Moanna is the daughter of the King of the Underworld. She becomes curious about the world above & ventures to the surface. The sunlight blinds her & erases her memory, she falls ill & eventually dies. Her father believes her spirit will return to the underworld & him one day. From here the movie moves to 1940s Spain just after the civil war. Ofelia is a young girl who loves fairytales, she is travelling with her pregnant & very ill mother to live with her new stepfather Captain Vidal, a thuggish army general who is engaged in flushing out anti fascist rebels hiding in the nearby woods. Ofelia is befriended by the head servant Mercedes (who is league with the rebels) Ofelia keeps seeing a stick insect & one night in her bedroom it transforms into a fairy, guiding Ofelia to an ancient Labyrinth nearby where she meets Faun. Faun is convinced that Ofelia is Princess Moanna & tells her he will give her three tasks to prove her essence still exists. As Ofelia tries to complete the tasks the horrors of the real world around her are brought ever closer to home & the fairytale world also has it’s own darker side, including the sinister Pale Man.
The preceding plot synopsis really doesn’t do the movie justice. There are so many subplots that intertwine that to go into detail would risk plot spoilers. What del Toro has achieved with Pan’s Labyrinth is to make a movie that works wonderfully on many levels & is open to interpretation. Does the world of Faun & Moanna really exist? Or is it a way for Ofelia’s mind to escape the very real horrors in her own life. The movie can be viewed both ways & it is to del Toro’s credit that either interpretation works perfectly. With Pan’s Labyrinth del Toro has created a wonderfully dark fairytale which is not without it’s scenes of outright horror. From the brutal acts of torture & violence committed by Vidal in the real world to the incredibly creepy Pale Man. A truly sinister creation, the Pale Man is a child killer & one of the most imaginative creatures ever committed to celluloid. While the film hints at imagery & tone associated with Clive Barker & Tim Burton it is del Toro’s vision & in Pan’s Labyrinth he has in most respects eclipsed anything those two directors have produced. It truly is a visual masterpiece & setting the movie in 1940s Spain really grounds the movie in a harsh & dark reality. The special effects & make up are superb throughout. Faun is an amazing creation, as is the aforementioned Pale Man. There is also a shockingly realistically brutal scene where Vidal smashes a man’s face to a pulp with a wine bottle that is very graphic & shocking. The entire cast is wonderful, with special mention going to Sergi Lopez, who really brings Vidal to life as a repulsive & vicious human being. Maribel Verdu as Mercedes the housekeeper & spy for the rebels. It is her character that gives the audience hope & someone to root for. Finally Ivana Baquero as Ofelia puts in a wonderful performance. I really cannot find a single fault with this movie, it is simply wonderful.
If you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth you really need to. A wonderfully dark fairytale that impresses on every level. Guillermo del Toro is one of the most promising moviemakers around & Pan’s Labyrinth is his crowning glory. A perfect example of just how good movies can be,
“11 hours & 2 minutes before the ceremony execution”
Koji Shiraishi is an enigma, he is responsible for Noroi, possibly the most nerve-shredding piece of scary as fuck cinema ever. He is also sadly responsible for Grotesque & Carved, two very poor movies. So… is Koji Shiraishi a master moviemaker or did he just get lucky with Noroi? I recently found out that Shiraishi had made two other mockumentaries Occult & Shirome. I sat & watched them both & as far as Mr Shiraishi goes I’m even more confused, would the real Koji Shiraishi please stand up.
Occult is the investigation by Shiraishi himself of a brutal knife attack at a popular Japanese tourist spot. After interviewing several eyewitnesses the focus of the investigation centres on a man who was injured by the assailant. Instead of killing the man when he was at his mercy, the killer carves symbols into the man’s back stating “Your turn next”. The killer jumped from a cliff after the assault & his body was never found. Upon reviewing the footage Shiraishi & his crew spot a strange object in the sky. The injured man (a pathetic out of work loser) is interviewed & claims his life has changed since the attack & he witnesses what he calls miracles several times a week. Shiraishi & his crew decide to film the man 24/7 over a week to try & capture these miracles on film. It soon becomes apparent that there are indeed strange phenomena around the man but the question soon becomes what are these events & what will it lead this man to do?
I had high hopes for Occult when I sat down to watch it, maybe too high. After all it was highly unlikely it would be another Noroi. The movie starts well & the mockumentary style works well. Several eyewitnesses & survivors of the assault are interviewed & for a while it looked like Occult would be another film like Noroi that carefully weaved several disparate plot lines until they converged at the conclusion. Sadly this isn’t the case & after the opening Occult focuses on just the one plotline. The acting by the lead actor is superb, he really captures the essence of a man on the bottom rung of society that is given (in his mind) a gift & purpose. Shiraishi manages to create a story that does hold your interest & builds nicely to its climax. Sadly Occult is not without its faults. Firstly the SFX are abysmal. I dare say you could do better on your own PC with Paint in under 15 minutes. I can’t really specify what effects are poor for fear of giving away spoilers but you will know them when you see them. Even worse than the SFX is the loose ends not tied up at the film’s conclusion. What were the shapes in the sky? The movie gives no explanation of these & considering the movie focused on these heavily it was disappointing not to clarify this plot point. The ending is also a let down. The film builds nicely to the climax which is, in all honesty laughable. The idea is sound enough but the execution is pitiful, rendering any power the story had built up pointless. The inclusion of hints at The Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos is also done poorly & serves no real purpose at all.
Occult is worth a watch, if you haven’t seen Noroi I’m sure you will really enjoy it. Even if you have seen Noroi its worth a watch. Just don’t expect another Noroi, it’s nowhere near that good but a hell of a lot better than Grotesque, Carved & Shirome (his other mockumentary, which I will review when my ears have stopped ringing from the endless sound of Japanese girls screaming for an hour!) So, am I any closer to knowing the real Shiraishi?… Not in the slightest, if anything I’m even more confused.
“Why pray when Prayers are useless?”
Ghost Game is a Taiwanese movie from 2006 that caused a lot of controversy upon its release due to the movie’s setting which echoed The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which is a memorial in Cambodia to the killing fields during The Khmer Rouge’s time in power. The movie is banned in Cambodia & caused a great deal of tension between the two countries.
In Ghost Game 11 contestants are brought to an old war museum in Cambodia which was the site of dreadful atrocities committed by the communist troops on the inmates during the reign of the infamous Khmer Rouge, ending in a “Jonestown” type mass slaughter. Accompanied by the by the makers of the game show, the contestants enter the prison, each hoping to win the competition & prize money of 5 million Baht. The producers of the show have set up various tricks to spook the contestants into leaving until only one remains. It’s not long before contestants & crew disturb the spirits of the victims of the prison & the game becomes a deadly matter of life & death.
The plot of Ghost Game is simple enough. It combines elements of Battle Royale, R-Point & My Little Eye to make an effective movie. The trouble with Ghost Game is it’s sub genre. The ghost genre is a popular topic in Asian horror & the market is virtually flooded with these sorts of film. From the aforementioned R-Point, through the popular Ringu & Ju-on films to the classic Shutter there are literally hundreds of ghost movies in Asian cinema. This means that for any film of this type it really has to shine to be noticed. Ghost Game sadly doesn’t. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, far from it. Despite having it’s faults Ghost Game is a well made & competent movie. it just lacks that extra something that makes the likes of Shutter so good. The movie has some real highpoints. The setting of the movie is wonderfully creepy. The abandoned prison is a grim & foreboding place & provides a wonderful setting for the film. The cinematography is wonderful. The movie is bathed in a greenish hue which really works for the movie’s atmosphere. The whole reality TV show theme also, despite being a well-worn genre idea works quite well. The contrast of what is seen in the prison compared to what is shown on the banks of TV monitors in the control room works well. But Ghost Game is not without its flaws. There are too many characters & virtually no time is given to any characterisation. This leaves the movie with a group of stereotypical characters that it’s hard to warm to. The pacing of the movie isn’t great either. A long time is spent building up to a climax that seems very rushed. My last problem with Ghost Game may be more to do with me than the film. I am not a big fan of ghost movies. I generally find them dull. Unless the movie is something truly great like the wonderfully creepy Shutter this genre tends to leave me cold. Despite my love of Asian horror I even find classics like Ringu & Dark Water to be dull. Ghost Game didn’t really give me any sense of tension & atmosphere & seemed to rely on cheap & at times obvious jumps to illicit a reaction. I will say at least the movie avoided the clichéd “ghost with long hair” which seems to be a constant in these types of movie.
In closing Ghost Game is by no means a bad movie, it’s worth a watch & easily passed an hour & a half of my time. It just didn’t reach the heights it could have done. If you like a good ghost movie you could do a lot worse. Certainly worth a watch, just not spectacular.
“My god! The pigeons!”
Noroi was the first movie I ever reviewed for Subtitled Hell & one that despite rewriting twice I have never been happy with. For such a classic & important movie this just wouldn’t do. So I sat down & re-watched Noroi again (always a joy) & will now attempt with this brand new review to do this movie justice.
Noroi is an incredibly complex movie & is the story of Masafumi Kobayashi’s latest & last investigation. Kobayashi is a paranormal investigative journalist, who as the film starts has published numerous books & videos of his investigations. A voiceover narration informs us that Kobayashi’s house has burnt down, his wife’s burnt remains were found in the house but Kobayashi himself is missing. We are then presented with his last work, an investigation titled Noroi (the curse) The film starts as Kobayashi investigates a woman called Junko Ishii, who lives in an apartment with her son. One of her neighbours has complained about hearing babies crying from Ishii’s apartment. Kobayashi calls on Ishii after interviewing the neighbours & Ishii reacts aggressively, refusing to speak to Kobayashi. Ishii soon moves out & her neighbours die in a freak road accident. The movie then introduces us to several characters, all seemingly unrelated including Kana a young girl who has strong psychic powers & goes missing. Miarika, a TV personality with heightened ESP & Hori an eccentric physic who sees visions of what he calls ectoplasmic worms. As the movie progresses the separate story arcs of these characters converge, pointing to the legend of a demon called Kagutaba.
With out a doubt Noroi is the most genuinely creepy & downright unsettlingly scary movie ever made. Forget Ringu or Ju-on, they pale when placed next to Noroi. I have seen this movie several times now & even knowing the story it still has the power to creep under my skin & unsettle. The movie plays out like a real documentary, utilising footage from “other tv shows” & this works perfectly, giving the whole film an unparralleled feeling of realism. You (the audience) buy into the idea you are watching a real documentary & for that reason you buy into the terror that unfolds. Director Koji Shiraishi has crafted a wonderfully complex movie. Shiriashi takes his time weaving his plot, the movie clocks in at just under two hours & time is taken to develop each plot line until they come together perfectly at the movie’s climax. The cast is superb, each putting in completely believable performances. Satoru Jitsunashi is wonderful as Hori, his performance of a man tortured by visions to the extent that his mind has started to unravel is perfect. But it is Jin Muraki as Kobayashi that really grounds the movie. His portrayal of a man of science & reason drawn into something way beyond what he can rationalise is spot on, making what unfolds even more terrifying. Shiraishi’s movie really gets under your skin. Rather than relying on cheap scares & jumps his movie slowly builds an air of unease & mounting tension. With Noroi he has made a movie that truly unsettles & disturbs. By the time the movie reaches it’s climax the audiences nerves are truly shredded & the film’s conclusion is incredibly strong, visually stunning & downright creepy. I really want to say more but I don’t want to give anything away. Watching Noroi for the first time is an amazing experience. That feeling of being drawn into the unfolding events is like nothing you have ever witnessed on film before.
I could go on for hours about this film, but i will stop here. Noroi demands to be seen. A work of rare power. Quite simply the scariest movie ever made. A must see.
“I’ll be forgiven for all this, isn’t that right God?”
Freeze Me is a movie that could easily be summed up by using just two words, those words being “utter” & “bollocks” But in the interests of clarity I will attempt to validate that comment.
Freeze Me is the story of Chihiro, who as the movie begins has built a new life for herself after leaving her hometown five years earlier. She left after being gang raped & her assailants filmed the attack & sold it on the net. Things have gone well for Chihiro since leaving & she has a good job & is engaged to be married to one of her co-workers. One day one of her rapists turns up at her flat informing her that the others are on their way. He forces his way into her flat & after making himself at home rapes her again. Chihiro seeing everything she has achieved crumble around her takes matters into her own hands & kills her assailant, placing his body in the freezer. It’s not long before her other two assailants turn up.
The Rape/Revenge genre has long been a staple of Asian cinema, from the violent pinku movies to the Cat III movies from Hong Kong. While a lot of these movies have just been plain exploitation, some are wonderful movies like Red To Kill or Her Vengeance. Freeze Me is a movie that just fails on almost every level. The whole point of this genre of movie is that we (the audience) feel for & empathise with the victim & want to see her take her righteous & bloody revenge on these scumbags. Chihiro’s behaviour in the movie is just so ridiculous that it is truly staggering. When her first rapist arrives & forces his way into her flat, after raping her he falls asleep. Instead of calling the police, running away or even attacking him in his sleep, she simply leaves him to sleep. After which he pretty much moves in, sending her to work & waiting for the others to arrive. Finally & not before time Chihiro takes matters into her own hands & kills the rapist in the bathtub, her weapon of choice being a plastic bottle of water! With various knives in the kitchen & a variety of blunt instruments in the house she unconvincingly bludgeons him to death with a water bottle! Does this finally empower our heroine, like fuck it does. When the third & most vicious thug moves in, abuses her & again she takes ages to strike back. Chihiro’s behaviour just makes no sense at all. Director Takasii Ishii seems utterly confused on the type of movie he is making. The rape scene is handled very carefully & only briefly hinted at in flashback. After showing restraint in that area he floods the movie with endless shots of Chihiro naked (honestly she showers more in this movie than the most extreme sufferer of OCD!) It all reeks of a misjudged attempt at exploiting his lead actress. Harumi Inoue as Chihiro is one of the movies only highpoints. She really gives her all in her role & tries hard to rise above the awful script.
This almost made my Hall Of Shame. The only reason it didn’t is Harumi Inoue’s performance, the movie’s sole highpoint. Avoid this dire movie at all cost & watch something like Red To Kill instead.