Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hair Extensions

   You know that any movie that starts with a line like "My nose hair has been growing so fast lately!" is going to be memorable, for better or worse. In the case of Hair Extensions, or "Exte", it's definitely for the better. Director Sion Sono is a name I'm becoming quite familiar with, not realizing at first that at least three more movies on my immediate to-watch list were directed by him as well, I'm well on my way to being a sold-out fan. Exte shows the right way to do absurdist, over-the-top, horror. Unlike Uzumaki, Exte takes a strange and unlikely premise and runs with it, all the way. Whereas Uzumaki was about a town haunted by spirals, Exte- like it's name implies, is very much about... hair.

   All it took was a few screen grabs to get me on board with this bizarre flick, and I knew within minutes that I was going to love it. Or rather, I was seriously hoping I still loved it by the time it was over. I was similarly enchanted with Uzumaki, but ultimately let down. Thankfully that's not the case with Exte. The movie is about the corpse of a girl who had her organs harvested and all her hair cut off, leaving her spirit angry and vengeful. Her body falls into the hands of a creepy morgue worker with a fetish for hair. He quickly discovers that the body's hair is still growing... and fast. So he starts to sell the hair to local salons and the like.

   Enter Yuko, our protagonist played by the lovely Chiaki Kuriyama. Yuko is an aspiring hair stylish and an overall joy to watch. She's bubbly and joyful, but never overbearing. Kuriyama feels natural in the role, never forced. We eventually find out though that Yoko's life isn't all peaches and gravy. Her loser of an older sister ends up dumping her kid, this adorable little girl named Mami, on Yuko so she can be free to party and slut it up with no responsibility weighing her down. It gets even worse when Yuko finds out that her sister has been abusing Mami, both physically and emotionally. The domestic drama might seem like it would distract from the budding horrors of the movie, but surprisingly, it doesn't.

   If anything, quite the opposite. The familial drama is well acted, compelling and engrossing, and would be worth watching even if the movie didn't have a full head of haunted and homicidal hair. The character development is on point, so that when the plot builds to it's inevitable climax, we care about the characters. We want them to survive. Something that some J-horror movies and horror movies in general never really accomplish. Exte is a glorious exception, managing to be as weird and as bizarre as it could possibly be, while also serving up organic character development, and characters that are fun to watch. If any angle is left under-cooked, it's probably the police investigation into the theft of the corpse and the string of grisly hair-related murders.

   The cops simply don't have much to do, but it's no big deal because Yuko is such a magnetic and cheerful personality that we'd much rather spend time with her, and thankfully- we do. This wouldn't have been the right movie to saddle with a focus on the mundane and stuffy police duo and their tedious investigations. This is a movie that's bursting, but not with blood and gore like genre fans might expect... but with hair, obviously (and literally). When characters are cut, or limbs fly off, more often than not- it's hair that sprays out. the movie plays around gleefully with it's hair-obsession, and Sono milks the silly concept for all it's worth, serving up some surprisingly stomach-turning body horror that would even make David Cronenberg squirm.

   The movie has a sense of humor to go along with it's domestic drama, and gag-inducing weirdness, and it's wonderful. I must say though, I was traumatized as a kid when some ass-clown at Dominos decided to bake the pizza we ordered with a massive helping of hair in the dough. So this movie really got to me, and under my skin- a phrase that has a whole new meaning for me after watching this flick. Exte is every bit the silly, grotesque, shocking, squirm worthy, oddball flick I wanted Uzumaki to be and just wasn't. What can one say? Some movies get it right, others don't. Exte might not be for everyone, and despite the fact it's not specifically bloody, it's still really unnerving and had me fighting the urge to look away constantly.

   I've no qualms ranking Exte as one of my favorites of the J-horror genre, alongside Ringu, Pulse, and Noroi: The Curse. It might not be a genre redefining work, but it's a fantastically weird and fun horror movie that's full of shocking visuals and uncomfortable imagery. It works simultaneously as a send up of the genre and as a semi-serious entry into it as well. It might be silly, but make no mistake- it's still really disturbing. I can't wait to buy it and spring it on the first poor soul who'll let me pick out the flick for movie night. Not really the kind of movie to watch while snacking though, especially if- like me, you have a serious thing about hair in your food. Fully recommended for genre fans though! I loved it.

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