Thursday, October 6, 2016

Noroi: The Curse

   I sat in stunned silence for at least a full minute after this movie was over. I had to collect my thoughts, and calm down. Noroi: The Curse is one of the most effective and affecting horror movies I've ever seen. As simple as that. It's easily the best J-horror movie I've seen to date, and probably the best horror movie I've seen in years. One of surprisingly few that not only lives up to it's hype, but surpasses it. The movie was made in the style of a documentary, like something you're likely to see as a Sunday night special on a cable channel dedicated to mysteries and the like. Make no mistake though... this movie is anything but pedestrian.

   The movie follows a paranormal investigator named Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki) as he documents his research into various strange happenings. At first, the several different things he's poking his nose into seem wildly unrelated, but the movie slowly reveals a link, piece by piece. It draws you in as a mystery, first and foremost. Making good use of it's faux documentary style, I was pleasantly surprised that the movie used footage and scenes from many different and varied sources. At times it was almost easy to forget I was watching a movie and not a legitimate documentary.

   There's always a sort of 'seam' in found footage or faux documentaries, where things happen because they need to happen for the audience's sake, and real life is rarely so tidy and convenient, so it pulls you out of the movie, breaking the illusion. I didn't notice any 'seam' in Noroi, and I was unconsciously on the lookout. I always am when watching movies done in this style. I think the faux documentary style was in many ways crucial to the movie's effectiveness, allowing for scenes to be visually recalled, replayed, paused, and slowed down, within the context of the movie. Making the style of the movie an integral element of the story rather than just a cheaply spun gimmick designed to mimic immersion.

   The movie's score is fantastically haunting and really gets under your skin. As Kobayashi digs deeper into his mysteries, you get a feeling of overwhelming dread start to set in- due in no small part to the score. The actor playing Kobayashi, Jin Muraki also does a fantastic job. "Did you see that?" he asks as the cameraman lingers on his face. The moment is drawn out, letting the uncomfortable silence pervade the scene, exacerbating the feeling of dread... and then a cut to black. Muraki delivers an earnest, likable, and grounded performance as Kobayashi. When he was spooked, I was terrified- which is not something I say lightly.

   Also in the mix is actress Marika Matsumoto playing herself, and she manages to be exceptionally haunting in her role. She's at the core of one of Kobayashi's mysteries, and he starts to discover that she seems to be cursed... as do others. I can not adequately do this movie justice with words. Not without spoiling all the things that make it so excellent. The movie is incredibly detail oriented, never once having to rely on jump scares or startles to creep the viewer out. Every nail-biting scary moment is one we're expecting, and often see coming, which makes it that much more scarier. Other times it's simply a line, or the context of a line. The more you can suspend belief and engross yourself in this world, the more effective the movie becomes.

   Thankfully, that's an easy task because Noroi is so damn well made. I can't believe I never sat down to watch it sooner. I was glued to the screen from beginning to end. Even bits that might seem at first to be superfluous or unnecessary make a reprise in importance later on. The movie is a slowly assembling puzzle, each piece giving you another new piece of the disturbing final picture. I hate to say it has a "slow build", because that's not even accurate. Something is constantly happening in the movie, but not in a frenetic 'run for your life' kind of way, and even though the movie has those moments, it doesn't rely on them for it's sole point of entertaining it's audience.

   Like any good mystery, the meat of Noroi is the investigation. The movie derives it's scares from the answers and more importantly the questions that Kobayashi uncovers over time. What starts out as some middling creepy noise nonsense evolves into a search for a missing girl and a mysterious string of deaths. I was on the edge of my seat constantly, and not just because of the suspense and the tension, but because movies like this often plummet in quality and lost my interest once they reveal the 'thing'. The big mysterious 'thing' behind the plot, the 'thing' all the investigating has been leading up to. So many movies drop the ball, and resort to easy or at least familiar territory- completely losing me as a viewer. That's the moment I cease to give a shit.

   I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the same thing to happen in this movie. It never did. Once the movie tips it's hand and reveals the 'thing', the movie manages to maintain it's haunting atmosphere and actually escalate the tension. I was floored. All of this, combined with the fact that Noroi isn't just fashioned like a documentary, but a good documentary, make it a hands-down winner. This movie won't be for everyone, and certainly not people looking for cheap and lurid thrills, but if true horror is supposed to leave you devastated, spooked, creeped out and shaken... Noroi: The Curse gets the job done, and then some.

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