It ComesReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/04/20 06:25:23
SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's not often that you see a horror movie like this that has both an incredibly clear idea what it wants to be about but also has such ambitious sweep, managing what sometimes seems like multiple new takes on old ideas without losing what makes them work. That would be enough, but the film also builds to an absolutely amazing climax that is continuously offering more, the best and wildest exorcism put on film in a long time. It's a wonder this thing is never even close to careening out of control, but director Tetsuya Nakashima knows what he's doing.After a flash-forward teaser, we're properly introduced to Hideki Tahara (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and his fiancee Kana (Haru Kuroki), who will soon be married and expecting a baby. Before they've told anyone the name they've chosen, someone visits Hideki at work to talk about Chisa. The colleague who took the message dies under mysterious circumstances, and as events get stranger (on top of the regular stress of a new baby), they find themselves reaching out to an old friend who studies folklore (Munetaka Aoki), freelance occult writer Nozaki (Junichi Okada), and club hostess/medium Makoto Higa (Nana Komatsu). At first, this seems a small enough haunting as such things go, although it may grow to the point where Makoto's sister Kotoko (Takako Matsu), one of the world's top exorcists, may need to get involved.
The trick of a good horror movie is often finding something that already scares the audience and giving is a life of its own, and Nakashima and company have a clear eye on, among other things, the potentially maddening nature of parenthood and living one's expected life. Part of what they do that's impressive is build the story such that things have some time to fester and recur, which means they can turn the Taharas' lives around and find different angles on how it can translate into supernatural horror, and in doing so deliver some impressive, varied shocks. Nakashima' adaptation of Ichi Sawamura's novel gets out there enough that things never play as purely metaphorical - there's themes and cleverness found here, but they don't overwhelm the thrills by making them just simple analogs to real life - but the scares get bigger even as they stay connected to what makes them mean something.
On top of that, there's fun almost anti-stock characters, like the daddy-blogger, the cheerily creepy little girls, and the ditzy exorcist. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Haru Kuroki both do nifty work with how the birth of a child augmented by something supernatural causes massive shifts in personality and priorities, a really nifty bit of acting that leans hard into discontinuity but also never makes them feel like puppets of the demons that are plaguing them. Junichi Okada and Nana Komatsu give the film big boosts when they join in, with Komatsu's Makoto likely one of my favorite horror-movie characters ever. There's kindness tied up in her against-type flightiness that's never truly one note, and it's fun to watch Okada's Nozaki falling for her against his own expectations in the background. The glimpses the audience gets of Takako Matsu for a few seconds at a time before she shows up for real set the stage for things to take off when she gets to show up and take at least a portion of center stage.
She does that in the last act, which is bigger than anything else in an already-grand flick has set the audience up for despite all the hints that there's more to see than you know coming before. It's almost funny in its sensory overload as it gets started, countering how a lot of exorcism films lose a bit of urgency by having to rely on specific mythology to actually make things happen at the end by including a little bit of everything (from Catholic priests to manga schoolgirls), but is also not messing around - all of that enables Nakashima to elevate an elemental sequence that features all the blood, intensity, and danger of the great cinematic exorcism scenes. The very scale of it both seems ridiculous but also expands the film's world in ways that are scary given a bit of thought; just how beset by demons are we if there's such an extensive network and Kotoko can't prioritize the Taharas until things get this bad? It's exhilarating in ways horror movies seldom manage, and when you get to the end, it's been a lot, but it's been great.It's a heck of an act for any future demonic possession movie to follow, because Nakashima and his team are so on-point that they even get a gasp when they've circled back around to the opening flash-forward, a technique that usually indicates a dull start or makes at least part of the film feel like spinning wheels. Here, it's just one more example of the filmmakers taking all the good stuff from the genre, mixing it together, and preparing something much better than one might expect.
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