For a better part of the last five years or so, the Japanese have been releasing all manner of interesting horror films. Their take on the subtleties of the ghost story tend to be unique, stylish, and at times, down right chilling. There have also been some very original genre entries coming out of the land of the rising sun, but Cursed takes it all a little bit too far out of the realm of real frights with its story based in a haunted convenience store of all places.
This shot on video production from director Yoshihiro Hoshino follows a teenage girl named Nao Shingaki who works part time at a strange convenience store to pay the bills. Not only does she have to put up with the eccentricities of the married couple who own and run the shop and the strange customers who show up from time to time, but she also has to deal with the ever present sense of dread that seems to permeate the establishment for some unknown reason. She can't quite put her finger on it, but she knows that there's something creepy about her place of employment.
When a representative of a convenience store franchise comes in to help take inventory and get the store ready to change over to their format, she and Nao become friends and they bond over the fact that they each know something is amiss in the building. When night when working her shift Nao sees someone or something in the mirror behind her, the first appearance of a spectral being who is intent on making life a living hell for those who run and work at the store. It seems that the contractor who built the place way back when had a run in with the owner who tried to rip him off, and ended up mixing some bones into the mortar used to build the foundation and as such, the building is cursed.
Cursed is pretty difficult to take seriously and to be quite honest, I'm not entirely sure that we're supposed to. The film is either really goofy, or it's got a clever streak of black humor running just underneath the surface. Either way, the end result is middling at best.
When the movie plays for scares, there are a couple of successful moments such as when Nao sees the ghost in the mirror or when the ghost drags a sledge hammer through the hallway of a dark apartment building, chasing one of his soon to be victims relentlessly. Bits and pieces of tense horror are scattered through the film and they work fairly well, thanks in no small part to some clever camera work and bleak, eerie lighting work.
The problem with the film lies in the characterizations. Even the two female leads, nice as they may be, are hard to care for. The film doesn't really get under the skin of those whose story it's trying to tell and because of that, we don't get to know anyone well enough to generate any sympathy for them. As such, if you can't sympathize with the characters, the scary scenes just aren't as scary. Throw in the aforementioned oddly humorous moments, such as when the couple that run the place wash the blood of two dead crows off of their front steps making sure to 'get every last drop,' and what you're left with is a very mixed bag indeed.
While Cursed isn't the worst of the crop of recent Asian ghost stories, it isn't up there on the level with modern classics of the 'spooky Japanese ghost' genre such as Ring, Ju-on and even the less popular but highly original Uzumaki. It's worth a watch for those shining bits, but that's about the extent of it.
Though the packaging states that the film is 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen, it's actually closer to 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. This film was shot on digital video and as such, it has some moderate mpeg compression artifacts noticeable during the darker moments of the film. The blacks do break up a little bit and there is some pixelation. There's also some moderate edge enhancement present and some mild line shimmering. That's the worst of it though – colors look pretty decent, skin tones look life like and natural except where
Cursed comes to region one DVD with a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix complete with optional English subtitles that, aside from one or two minor typos, are handled quite well. As far as the audio quality itself, things sound pretty good. The mix makes proper use of the surround channels in a couple of scenes to enhance the mood and heighten some tension, and in the quieter parts leaves the dialogue to the front of the sound stage and uses the rears for atmospheric sounds and background music.
The only extra features on this release are trailers for five other Tokyo Shock releases, including Miike's One Missed Call, The Mysterians, Matango, and a couple more.
Cursed has got a couple of shining moments but not enough to really make it stand up to repeat viewings. Some of the satire is clever and the direction and performances aren't half bad, but the story meanders a little too much for it's own good. The Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock DVD looks okay and sounds pretty good, but the extras are slim and the price tag is high. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.