Sunday, October 08, 2006
In 2003 JPX snagged a copy of this movie, and we watched it in the total darkness of my sister's house. We paused it so I could hit the bathroom... and to tell this story right I have to describe the picture. I'm leaving the brightly-lit bathroom, which opens directly into the big main room, which, since we're watching horror movies in there, is completely dark. I've only opened the door about a foot when, out of this band of blackness between door and frame, there emerges a screaming, open-mouthed face. I not only raised my arms to protect myself, but such was my terrorized recoil that I also pulled up one knee to use my leg to block the threat. I also screamed -- not like a girl exactly, but at least as loud. Then I collapsed on the floor laughing, because I'd just been victimized by the reigning Sick Burn of Scares in my long and sometimes taxing friendship with JPX. I don't know if I'll ever get him back. Bastard.
And the key, of course, was this movie. This beast had us wound up to a high-grade spookout, and since that night I've held this flick in the spot of Scariest Movie Ever.
After this viewing, I'm letting Ju-on retain its title, although I'll admit some indecision. I knew it couldn't be as scary as that first time, and I had to separate the events of this movie from those of the inferior sequel and remake, both of which used that exact same familiar stairway. That effort aside, Ju-on has moments of exquisitely wrought fear that set it apart from its imitators.
I'm going to follow JPX's Ring example and throw out a list:
1. The sound design. Not just the signature ghostly croaking (brrr!), but the weird shufflings and thumps that lure people througout the house. Sounds that could be nothing but always make you think a of a dragging corpse or a falling one.
2. The story structure. While neither the first or last chapters are the strongest, the non-linear episodic structure allows for a beautiful relentlessness. You see so many people taken down (or worse, taken away) by this ghost, and all the different ways it can happen.
3. All the different ways it can happen. The premise, the folIow-though, the basic storytelling are all great. Hitomi, the couple's sister, getting a phone call, having her brother buzz and ask her apartment number, actually seeing him through the peephole so she opens the door, but nobody's there -- all of this weird stalking that has no setup but makes perfect sense. Why does Kayako need her to open the door? Even the lethal Japanese ghosts are polite, maybe? I don't know, but I love it.
4. All the stuff you don't see. Characters you hear about vanishing or dying whose demises aren't on screen, so you can assume that anyone who set foot in that house is eventually gone, even those you don't hear about.
5. What's the deal? Why is this curse so ravenous and powerful? My favorite moment in that mystery is main character Rika's friend Mariko, who we see getting pulled screaming into the attic and then dragged into a corner, and ...then where? What horrible zone of death can you be pulled bodily into through a random shadowy corner? Brrr again.
6. It's such a normal-looking house! Bad things can happen when it's light out! Remember Bob from Twin Peaks? How he'd freak you out because he was lurking by the coffee table or reaching behind the dresser? I love domestic horror, when the familiar and the close are the setting for the unreal. It's the stuff of fever dream and delerium.
So Ju-on's still getting my props as the scariest, but its strength shows signs of wear. I won't say it's the best horror movie ever, but if you like a good scare like I do, this won't do you wrong. Watch it in the dark.