JULY 9, 2012
Thanks to a few folks responding to my “HMAD Today is…” tweet that it was one of the worst movies ever made (or things along those lines), I was actually able to enjoy The Shock Labyrinth to some degree, having my expectations in the gutter. I also got to run my AC on high (first time I’ve deemed it necessary this year) without having to worry about it drowning out the dialogue, since it was subtitled. Win-win!
I also liked that it was almost like a J-horror version of Prom Night or whatever, with a group of young kids fooling around when things go wrong and a tragedy strikes. The nature of that tragedy is slowly explained in pieces throughout the narrative, and this being a J-horror film the storytelling can be muddled or just plain incoherent, but it’s not hard to get the gist of it. There’s a fun twist about it near the end (followed by a clumsy attempt at a double-twist), and while I won’t spoil it I will say that I like how it essentially changes the film’s sub-genre into territory not often covered by these things.
It was also originally in 3D, another rarity (as far as I know). The movie is low on “comin at ya” gags, so watching in 2D isn’t obnoxious, but it’s easy to see how the format enhanced certain scares and effects, particularly for the ghost scenes, as its fond of blowing right past the other characters (and us in turn) as it fades out of view. Hell it’s a cool effect even in 2D, so this would have been a lot of fun to see properly. There’s also a great FX moment where a girl runs away from the camera, only for her body to invert/reverse (picture T2, when Arnold throws the T-1000 against the wall and he just morphs back around – sort of like that) and run back toward the camera. Again, this was impressive even when flat – it’s a bummer I didn’t get a chance to see this theatrically.
There are also a lot of FX shots centered around the film’s sort of mascot – a stuffed bunny. Director Takashi Shimizu might use it a bit too much, but it makes for a fun visual to see the thing floating around the labyrinth (a deserted hospital, actually). Mr. Bunny also adds to the other thing that’s unusual about this compared to most J-horror that I’ve seen it’s kind of a trippy movie. Pieces of the fluff inside the bunny are constantly floating around, a fully grown man crawls out of the bunny’s head, some folks’ faces crack and fall apart, human sized dolls come to life and jitter about… it’s kind of nuts. While there’s still some Ju-On type scares here, for the most part the movie reminded me of things like Dark Floors and Silent Hill.
And while it’s not always successful, I admired Shimizu’s attempts to use dream logic and combine it with the unreliability of memory. You know how you have dreams where you’re both observing and an active participant in the proceedings? There’s something akin to that in the movie’s fragmented memory sequences, where we see things over and over, but with variations depending on whose memory we’re seeing and how guilty they are feeling over their involvement with the accident. Right at the top of the film, one of the characters explains that the brain retains all memories, but that they become “disconnected” – if I’m understanding it right, this movie is basically about folks putting those pieces back together. It’s a crazy concept (and thus a distracting 3D environment is probably not the best place to try it), but for that alone I like the movie even if it can be frustrating to follow at times.
I also really enjoyed the score, which is another rarity as I seldom take notice of the cues in modern horror anymore (indeed as I write this I’m listening to the score for Frozen, another exception). I’ve queried Twitter a couple times now asking for truly great modern horror scores or themes besides Saw, and I always get the same two answers (Bubba Ho-Tep and Dead Silence; I’d throw Frozen and Let The Right One In the mix as well). I don’t know if it’s just my general dislike of electronic music (which is omnipresent across all genres) or if they’re just not trying, but as I look over my score collection it’s a bit of a shame how sparse it’d look if I were to order them chronologically.
So I’m not sure why the responders were so down on the film (the bulk of the IMDb user reviews are also negative) – perhaps as I suggested the 3D format made it difficult to concentrate on the story, or perhaps folks just put too much stock into the director’s previous work and expected another home run. Then again, I never really shined to the Ju-On films, so maybe it’s not a surprise I’d find more to like here. Marebito is still my favorite of his that I’ve seen, but this has inspired me to check out a couple more before I’m done.
What say you?