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Fatal Frame
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by Jay Seaver

"Not good, but at least interesting and unusual."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The festival program indicates that this film and the game "Fatal Frame" were based upon the same book, although the credits indicate that the book was based upon the game before being adapted into this film, but those specifics don't really matter. What's important is that screenwriter/director Mari Asato doesn't really make a good film, but does make something that's a little more striking than the usual product getting churned out.

I kind of suspect that a lot of the film's problems could be fixed by ripping about a half hour out to get it down to 75-80 minutes, and you could do it right up front, as there's a merry-go-round where it seems like three girls at a convent school who will never actually be important declare their love for classmate Aya Tsukimori (Ayami Nakajo), kiss her photograph at midnight, and vanish. Aya has been hiding in her dorm room since having a prophetic dream of her own death, though she eventually comes out to help Michi Kazato (Aoi Morikawa) investigate the curse that only affects girls. This school seems to have a lot of secrets, both spooky and conventional.

Aside from the opening sequence, there are also a pair of psychic investigators that could go later on, they're the sort of characters that appear in films that have been translated from other media, especially games, that have strong followings willing to make noise if something has been left out. If that's the case, it at least works in a way once things have started moving; Asato builds her film as a supernatural mystery, and these extraneous elements serve tolerably as red herrings. It's far from a perfect compromise - indeed, the script often seems to go in completely random, laughable directions.

The atmosphere, at least, is good stuff. Asato shoots this movie on 16mm film, giving it a very distinctive look that hearkens back to Italian chillers. It's genuinely spooky at points, and the weird mixture of Catholic imagery, a Hamlet translation turned into a hymn, spirit photography and anything else the writers could think of proves more potent than expected. Heck, just seeing characters in civilian dress after having been in dark, extra-modest school uniforms for the whole film seems a bit off-kilter. Effects sometimes belie the low budget, but work okay as a giallo pastiche.

Judging it by that measure, the cast isn't bad. Ayami Nakajo is occasionally iffy from scene to scene, but she does all right in terms of both giving Aya the sort of ethereal quality that makes the whole school becoming obsessed with her believable and making her a very human teenager just trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Aoi Morikawa is kind of rough as Michi, although part of it may be trying to give an exploitation-movie vibe to her character, who was into girls and Aya before things started getting weird. Much of the rest of the cast is on the same wavelength - it's not clear whether Yuri Nakamura & Koudai Asaka, playing a nun and her mute brother, are going for atmosphere or are genuinely the sort of underwhelming performers you'd find in those movies. Noriko Nakagoshi, at least, is clearly chewing scenery and having a ball doing so.

I heard people griping the next day that this apparently has very little to do with the game, and I can understand resenting the film if Asato basically chose to use the money she'd been given to do a "Fatal Frame" movie to make something in a different subgenre. This seemed to draw a fair amount of laughter and derision during the screening, and while it's not undeserved, it's also not entirely fair; there are enough impressive bits to this movie that it doesn't deserve to be entirely dismissed out of hand.

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originally posted: 08/31/15 13:57:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Mari Asato

Written by
  Mari Asato

  Aoi Morikawa
  Ayami Nakajo

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