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Tormented (2011)
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by Jay Seaver

"Just as off-kilter as a "Rabbit Horror" movie should be."
4 stars

"Tormented" is not a bad title for this particular Takashi Shimizu movie - it's generic, sure, but it does reflect some of what's going on. I must admit to favoring its original title, "Rabbit Horror 3D". I like that because as enjoyably creepy as the movie is, it gets there in large part by being genuinely weird, and you just don't get that from a one-adjective name.

A little while ago, ten-year-old Daigo Imazato (Takeru Shibuya) put a suffering rabbit down in his school's playground, albeit messily, and as a result he's being ostracized by the rest of the students. He therefore spends most of the day with his mute half-sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima), the school librarian, especially since their father Kohei (Teruyuki Kagawa) is inattentive, fully engrossed in his latest job as a pop-up book illustrator. One day, Daigo and Kiriko go to see a movie, and one of the 3D effects has a rabbit backpack pop out of the screen - and that Daigo is able to grab it and take it home is only the start of things getting weird.

The movie they see is Shimizu's own Shock Corridor, amusingly and helpfully one of the previews that plays before the movie on the American home video release. In some ways, it's kind of a weird choice, as it only emphasizes the fact that he is repeating some elements from his last movie in this one (both involve scary hospitals, too). And while it's easy to make a crack about how the guy who made six Ju-on/The Grudge movies in as many years obviously doesn't mind repeating himself, it's worth remembering that at least one of those movies got somewhat self-referential. He and co-writers Diasuke Hosaka and Sotaro Hayashi are up to something a little more clever than just a silly hook and easter egg here; the crossing between genuine and imaginary realities is an important part of the story, as are the early and repeated references to Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

Weird stuff with rabbits is the important part, though, and while Shimizu and company don't exactly distort them into grotesque monsters, they do find a lot of ways to make the things creepy. Some of it is just the Alice in Wonderland bit of having a friendly-seeming white rabbit lead Daigo into a cheerful fantasy world that can suddenly turn dark; some of it is the pulverized remains of a small animal. The filmmakers use blood and guts relatively sparingly, though it's certainly effective when they do. Much of the movie's uneasy atmosphere comes from things seeming off-kilter even when they're non-threatening, as if even when things are sort of beautiful, they can get out of hand very quickly. The filmmakers do well in making the scenes that are obviously within a character's head feel real, making for a dangerous surreality. And while it may seem fairly difficult to make a person in a rabbit costume not particularly designed to look like a monster feel dangerous, they pull it off. Part of it is that there are two costumes, and in comparison to the rounded, cartoony theme-park mascot, the more "realistic" anthropomorphic rabbit seems quite imposing.

There's also some CGI animation thrown in there and throughout, and while it's not exactly realistic, it's in an environment where not realistic is OK. Plus, it's a very nice-looking movie, with renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle behind the camera. I admit, part of the reason I wanted to see this was to see what Doyle did with the 3D format, and while it's difficult to truly appreciate that at home (especially with my jerry-built set-up), it is kind of nifty - sure, there are things popping out of the screen and the like, but it actually plays up the idea of something from a movie intruding into reality - as does the pop-up book, which also looks neat in 3D - and also emphasizes the tightness of the storage room in the Imazatos' apartment. It's a shame that relatively few people outside of Japan will see it this way.

The movie could, perhaps, use a bit more from the cast. Takeru Shibuya isn't bad as Daigo, but for all he does scared well, he seems a little out of his depth when he has to do more. Hikari Mitsushima was great in Love Exposure, but the former singer is a bit lost without her voice (except when narrating). She's a pretty fantastic match with Momoko Tanabe as the younger Kiriko, though. Teruyuki Kagawa and Tamaki Ogawa are under-used as Daigo's parents, None of them give a poor performance, but it might be nice if they could make the characters individuals as much as plot-drivers.

That's true of a lot of horror movies where the plot is this sort of intricate-but-shifting construct, though. What's important is that Takashi Shimizu is able to get a rise out of the audience several times without cheating and bouncing it out of the movie. It's certainly scarier than one might expect from "Rabbit Horror", but just as strange.

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originally posted: 05/26/13 03:40:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 02-Apr-2013



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