*Originally written in 2004
If you enjoy real, fill your pants atmosphere in films – that creeping feeling of dread usually reserved for coming face to face with your own personal phobia, then watch this and prepare yourself – the final fifteen minutes may well be the most heart-stopping, chilling fifteen minutes you will ever witness.
Just a warning though; it is slow paced, even more so than Ringu, a complaint many people seem to have with these movies, and the first time I watched it I wasn’t sure if it was leading anywhere. My problem was that I was watching it and comparing it to Ringu in my mind. The last few scenes changed my mind. The next time I watched, my mind was clear, and it scared the wits out of me. The few scary moments before the final scenes are pretty good, employing classic ‘should I look behind me’? techniques much like the previous films, but before I get to the final scenes, I’ll explain everything else.
The film begins in modern day Japan – someone has heard a rumour about a videotape with a curse… then we flashback thirty years or so and meet the Evil Spirit Sadako… only to find she is a beautiful young woman, a talented actress though shy, and misunderstood. Sadako Yamamura is part of an acting school, and her first role is a few days away. She keeps to herself, but the attentions of Toyama infuriate the other girls, who can’t understand what he sees in her when he could have any of them. The girls get jealous, and a number of deaths occur mysteriously. The story also follows a journalist who has traced down Sadako – she is the widow of a man who died, also under mysterious circumstances at the hands of, she believes, Sadako’s estranged mother. Sadako’s mother was famed for her supposed supernatural abilities, and killed herself a short while ago. The journalist wants to find out the truth, and finds Sadako just before opening night. Paying one of the jealous girls to mess with the audio equipment, hoping to get a reaction from Sadako, the play begins to go wrong, and in a Carrie-like scene, everyone blames Sadako. Then the fun really begins…
Up to this point, the film is equal parts chilling, beautiful, and to a certain extent confusing. The acting has been very good from everyone, especially Yukie Nakama who drags out our sympathy. Toyama is the only person who trusts Sadako, and tries to defend her, eventually leading to one of the most tragic scenes I can recall seeing. Every scene is shot trying to balance beauty with the creation of fear, a wonderful irony considering Sadako’s own birth and life – she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and is capable of great beauty, but all she seems to do is scare and kill.
I’ve probably hyped the film too much now, but the final scenes in the forest and Sadako’s old home are really that good. Terrifying, and directed brilliantly – watch for the way the forest suddenly changes colour from green and full of life, to that Sepia tinge used in the first films to show both the past and the afterlife. And watch in the background for a long haired figure in white floating past the trees. One of the most underrated horror movies of recent years, mainly because it can seem confusing at first glance, and because very few questions are actually answered. The point is, the questions are there to be asked, for us to work them out ourselves – we become like the journalists in each of the movies, drawing ourselves closer into the tragedy and threat of Sadako’s life until we cannot escape.