It's hard to believe that money was the only thing that drove Takashi Shimizu to direct six Grudge films (the two original Japanese TV films, the two Japanese theatrical remakes, and the first two American remakes, plus the video game). Making the same two films over and over has got to be increasingly tedious, no matter how big the paycheck. Then again, if his passion really is the genre, or ghost stories, or making films, there's no evidence of it in Shock Labyrinth 3D. Sloppy and frequently confusing, this is one of those movies that was made because it could be made -- "well, we can shoot it in 3D and get the director of The Grudge," said a studio exec -- not because anyone seems to have been invested in seeing it to the screen.
Childhood friends Ken (YŻya Yagira), Motoki (Ryo Katsuji), Rin (Ai Maeda), and Miyu (Erina Mizuno) haven't seen one another in a decade, but their ten-year dinner reunion at Rin's apartment is interrupted by the eerie arrival of Yuki (Misako Renbutsu), another member of their group who went missing in an amusement park's haunted house attraction when they were children. Yuki is hysterical, so they take her to the local hospital, but the deserted emergency room transforms into a sticky web of repressed memories and supernatural visions that dig at the reasons Yuki went missing in the first place.
It's been years since M. Night Shyamalan was relevant, but there's something about Shock Labyrinth's obnoxiously secretive nature that brings his name to mind, tiptoeing around crucial exposition so that it can whip the curtain away later in "big reveals" that don't add anything to the film except confusion and impatience. The film is actually so bent out of shape on a dramatic level that there's no solution: the twisty version is irritating, and the straightforward version would be dull (proof positive that any suspense is completely artificial). All of this wasted time would be better spent fleshing out the characters, but the flashback versions are reckless but inoccent, and the present-day versions are boring.
On top of the story woes, the editing by Zensuke Hori is remarkably sloppy, introducing major cuts with a tin ear to pacing, flow, or finesse. Opening the film with flashbacks to bookend the story, and starting with the aftermath of a situation before cutting back to show the events leading to it play as if someone not present in the editing bay described the cuts over the phone, and they were executed by a second party without understanding of purpose or intent. The film moves around because horror movies like this one are "supposed" to move around in a certain way, and yet the results are not just lazy but off the mark.
The only remaining thing Shock Labyrinth might've had going for it was the 3D, which seems like it might lend itself to a haunted house-style film set in a "labyrinth," but the effect is poorly executed, both from an artistic and technical standpoint. Similar to Sector 7, Shock Labyrinth is frequently accentuated with CGI, which is easily converted to modern 3D. Only a handful of Shimizu's shots really lend itself to the format, but most of those (like a straight-down angle of a girl walking up a blood-red spiral staircase) are purely metaphorical, and aren't meant to tell the story or even to be scary. Shock Labyrinth 3D is a bare-minimum effort from all involved, an assigment where "completion" seems to have been more important than "quality."
Shock Labyrinth 3D arrives on Blu-Ray in a two-disc combo pack edition that offers a Blu-Ray featuring the 3D and 2D versions, as well a DVD of the 2D version. The package comes with a slipcover with a lenticular 3D cover that is fairly neat, and a poor back cover that fails to capture the look of the movie at all (I really think movie studios these days underestimate the value of an image clearly conveying the look and feel of the movie). A 2D version of the artwork with the combo pack banner is underneath the slipcover, and there is an insert advertising more WellGo Asian Cinema Blu-Rays inside the case.
The Video and Audio
For years, my go-to-"worst 3D" has been Piranha, because the theatrical presentation of that film actually had sections where the 3D post-conversion was "wrong" (things in the background closer than things in the foreground), but this 1080p 1.85:1 MVC-encoded 3D transfer is another contender. The biggest issue with the 3D on this disc is that objects are not well-defined depth or dimension-wise, as if instead of pulling objects or people out, the film was a flat sheet with points being pulled toward the screen (picture a blanket, being held taut over a rectangle, and then imagine putting a hook through a random part of it and pulling it towards you). During many of the physical 3D moments, like an actor reaching toward the camera, closing one eye often also reveals images that just don't line up properly enough for the effect to work. If you're looking for a demo 3D disc, this is definitely not it.
A glance at the 2D transfer reveals further problems. Contrast is weak and the image is murky throughout. Once the characters are inside the labyrinth, heavy grain obscures fine detail and turns skintones a sickly greenish-brown color. Intentionally hazy flashback sequences that looked okay in 3D are remarkably ugly in 2D, falling far beneath anything that could be called HD. Artifacting and some oversaturation are clearly visible. Many of these issues are probably source issues due to low budget, but the film doesn't look very good in 2D or 3D.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track fares better than the video. Music is nicely balanced, and voices are clear. The track contains all sorts of good horror effects, from reversed voices to the thunderous crack of bones. One character is blind, and can "see" through audio waves, which provides an interesting aural effect. Even a knock at the door contains a little bit of a bassy punch that might raise a few hairs. It's not a phenomenal mix, but it's more than acceptable. An English DTS-HD 5.1 dub is also included, as well as both languages in Dolby Digital 2.0. English subtitles are, of course, also available.
A reel of interviews (27:06) with Shimizu, Yagira, Katsuji, Maeda, Mizuno, and Renbutsu are fairly interesting and filled with nice B-roll, although some of them are a little weird, like the way the interviewer walks away from Shimizu in the middle of a question. "Behind the Scenes" is actually a clip titled "The Haunted House and the Scary Dummies" (9:54), which is, as you might guess, a look inside the film's central set. Finally, "The Press Conference and the Opening Day" (2:48) showcases one of the film's big media days, with photo ops and more interviews.
Trailers for Splintered, The Stool Pigeon, , and The Man From Nowhere play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Shock Labyrinth 3D is also included.
The money was there, the director was free, and the technology was interesting, but that's not enough of a reason to make a movie. Shimizu and company ought to have waited for a story that was as interesting as the rest of the package. Skip it.
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