Thursday, October 6, 2016


   On the heels of Pulse, I decided to dig into more J-horror. This weird flick was just one of many I have lined up, I do hope the others are better than this one though. While I liked Pulse for it's atmosphere and using loneliness and technology as it's fundamental themes, I feel like Uzumaki doesn't have any of that going on under the hood. It's an absurdist flick about a small town that's plagued by... spirals. I didn't mean for that to sound so cynical, but there's really no way to describe this movie with a straight face. It's spirals! Not 'strange symbols', 'spiral-like ghosts', or a 'spiral cult'- the main thing in this movie is literally just spirals. I'm not kidding.

   I love weird movies, some that aren't even good- but I love them because they're so weird. Uzumaki isn't... great or anything. Overall quality of the movie, all elements considered... I'd have to say is rather middling. But, boy is it real frickin' weird. I was down with the concept that this town is being plagued by spirals, which isn't as simple as it sounds. It starts off real low key, where people start becoming obsessed with the idea of the spiral, the 'uzumaki'. The obsession gets out of hand, and the appearance of the spirals begin to affect the whole town in different ways. Kinda like those ridiculous number thrillers where some guy sees the same number everywhere? It's like that, but with spirals.

   The movie manages to get seriously dark and disturbing with it's material, featuring some bizarre and grotesque imagery attached to things like suicides, domestic abuse, and mental illness. Perhaps the movie is making a commentary on the nature of obsession and how infectious an idea can be? I doubt it though. Uzumaki seems to be aiming purely for shock value, letting it's oppressive atmosphere and bleak visuals carry the viewer from one disturbing scene to the distant next. With no distinct narrative to speak of, the movie becomes just a succession of weird death scenes, each one more inevitable than the last. I'm not saying this is strictly a bad thing, but it doesn't help the movie which was already starting to lose my interest.

   I heard it's based on a manga of the same name and that the manga is infinitely better. I'd imagine so, because it's film counterpart leaves much to be desired. The movie never reaches a penultimate weird image, and never fully explores it's concept- at least, not fully enough to my liking. It ends on an unsatisfactory note, leaving me to wonder what more could've been done. I can't in good conscience say that this was a bad movie, although some laptop critics have taken to calling it one of the worst they've ever seen. I think that's just a bunch of hyperbole. Uzumaki succeeds in crafting a dreamlike tale of nightmarish happenings. It does exactly what it means to.

   The more I think about it, the more it does feel like a half-remembered nightmare. One that doesn't always make sense, and one that's terrifying... yet you can't accurately describe why it is. As a child I used to have a recurring dream about gears, cogs and what I can only describe as a vast expanse of clockwork. The whole contraption was rigged up to a ticking clock face, and a needle. As the clock would count down, the needle would move closer to an inflated red balloon. As this happened, I would get increasingly agitated and by the time the needle popped the balloon, I would sit straight up- screaming and crying in terror.

   A needle? Clockwork? A balloon? None of these items are particularly scary on their own, but then neither are spirals. I couldn't tell you to this day why that dream used to terrify me so, only that it did. Uzumaki elicits the same kind of feeling, but to a jaded viewer like me, the sensation is diluted by years of watching similar, and better movies, with far more shocking imagery. But, not every nightmare is the same, and not every bad dream scares you in the same way. Uzumaki is a bad dream that aims to unsettle and unnerve rather than outright scare or startle. For Pete's sake, it's a movie where a town is plagued by spiral imagery, snail-people, and swirly cloud formations. It could be a send up of silly horror movies if only it wasn't being so earnest about trying to creep the viewer out.

   Which it does, and to decent effect, just not any memorable one. The acting is decent, although some have also taken to criticizing it for being comical, but... it's obvious it was supposed to be. Despite how grim and bleak the movie is, it's also surprisingly silly which isn't a bad thing, considering. Some of the older actors (older as opposed to the main cast of teenagers) really get into the insanity their roles require and they do so with absolute gusto. They were at least fun to watch. The lead actress is cute if nothing else, but her boyfriend is a barely animate block of wood. He's stiff, dry, and one of the most boring characters I've ever seen.

Like this, but... without the smile. 
   I liked the music in the movie, and the particularly creepy cues whenever the spiral nonsense was about to get freaky. Also worth pointing out is the especially icky sound design, which often makes up for whatever the movie doesn't show you, using sounds to fill in the blanks with your imagination. Crack, snap, squish, and the like. What does it sound like when you touch the slime of a human turning into a snail? Uzumaki won't let you don't in that regard. Ick, but in a good way...

   When all is said and done, I liked Uzumaki, but it wasn't very good. The first half is respectably creepy and solid, but it never quite picks up, and while that's a complaint I hate to use, it's just all too true in this case. I was impressed, but I very badly wanted to be. I wanted to be swept away in a whirlwind of bizarre imagery and general strangeness. The movie is never that over-the-top though. It's far too low key too often. When it is bizarre, it works, but when it's not, it drags. Which is a shame, because there was a lot of creativity put into this flick. It just never really goes anywhere. If you're binge watching a bunch of weird movies, or J-horror flicks, you could do worse than this, but you could also do much much better.

   It gets plenty of kudos for a rich, bleak atmosphere and eye-popping strangeness, but demerits for not really... doing anything with it all. Uzumaki will look like must-see material for lovers of bizarre cinema, but honestly? It's really not, and that's the most unfortunate thing about it. It's not distinctly bad, it's alright, but it had the potential to be so much better, and it just wasn't. I don't regret watching it, but I wouldn't watch it again. Like I've said, it was alright. Serviceable, if nothing else. But if that's not a particularly damning conclusion to come to after watching a movie, I don't know what is. See it if you must, but I wouldn't go out of my way if I were you.


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