by David Cornelius
Somewhere between “Heathers,” “Ringu,” and “Rocky Horror,” there’s “Suicide Club.” The film’s an odd blend of mystery, social commentary, experimental freak-out, and all-out horror, and while the blend doesn’t always work - too many scenes will leave you scratching your head - it works well enough to keep pleasantly thrilled and chilled throughout.The film’s opening is a definite attention grabber. In a subway station, things look perfectly normal for rush hour... until 54 school girls line up, hold hands, and cheerfully dive into the path on an oncoming train, sending a wave of blood across the platform. Trust me, knowing this scene is coming still won’t prepare you for the horror (and wickedly dark humor) found here.
"More fun than the Columbia Record Club."
It turns out that this mass suicide is just part of a bigger wave of deaths that’s sweeping the city. For no clear reason, people are just up and jumping out of windows, or slicing themselves to bits without really caring. Is it part of some cult, some “suicide club,” as a group of high schoolers take to calling it? It’s up to the police to find out if these are suicides or something more sinister. Me, I’d vote for the latter, considering how gym bags filled with something I can’t describe without ralphing (it’s rather icky, though quite ingenious) keep popping up at the suicide locations.
The story takes a few questionable detours, most notably a middle segment in which we meet the leader of a cult who stops the movie dead in its tracks by blaring out a song (“the dead shine all night long,” he wails) while surrounded by kidnapped victims struggling to break free of white cloth sacks. Oh, and it’s in an abandoned bowling alley. The effect is quite striking visually, and I was impressed by how the scene was presented, but from a story angle, all I could say was, “What the frick?”
Then there’s the ending, which will no doubt upset many viewers by leaving things mostly unresolved. We get to the bottom of the mystery, sort of, and then we realize that we haven’t really learned anything. We do get some more bizarre but fascinating imagery, compounded with some doofy psychobabble that sounds like it makes sense until you actually start thinking about it - you know, like something out of “The Matrix.”
But while the psychobabble is more or less nonsense, I still kinda liked it; I especially appreciated writer/director Shion Sono’s risky decision to leave things as up in the air as he did. The whole ending fits in with the off-kilter tone of the rest of the picture. This is a film that never really settles on one main character, as the focus jumps from person to person in a way that we don’t get much character-wise, but it does allow us to follow the unraveling mystery more clearly. Sort of.
I also enjoyed Sono’s mix of “extreme horror,” as this genre of Japanese splatter-soaked mystery has been labeled, with a clever, biting sense of humor. In one scene, we’re covering our eyes from the blood, and the next, we’re chuckling at the movie’s use of gallows humor. I often found myself laughing at the most awkward of times.
In addition to all of this, Sono also uses the suicides as a means of satirizing teen fads. It’s not murder, one cop suggests, but just a passing trend; “they’re just highly impressionable kids,” he remarks. Teens even take to poking fun at the suicides, getting together to pretend their own deaths.
The harshest satire comes in the form of a teen pop group whose latest single is a major hit. Sono contrasts the horrors of the mass deaths to the bubble gum silliness of the pop act; here we are, surrounded by violence, and yet we remain so easily distracted by the slightest of entertainment.“Suicide Club” has been called a response to Japan’s rising teen suicide rate. I’m not sure I buy into that theory. The film doesn’t examine the ideas and causes of depression and death in any realistic light. Instead, it merely uses suicide as the centerpiece of a creepy little horror mystery. Granted, I may be wrong, and this may actually be Sono’s take on a very real national problem after all (I’m guessing there’s a whole heap of themes that don’t translate well outside of Japan). But it doesn’t really matter. You’ll get out of this movie whatever you want to get out of it, be it deep social commentary, complex psychological discussion, or just freaky-ass terror. I went for a little of one and a whole lot of three; “Suicide Club” is a stylish, funny, and rather disturbing nightmare, and while some of it refuses to make a lick of sense, I still had a blast.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12450&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/11/05 01:39:00