Not many people may recognize the name Takashi Shimizu in American households these days, but to reacquaint those who may remember the name, he was one of the names at the front of the Japanese (or J) Horror film genre in the early 2000s with his Ju-On films in Japan. He remade the films for American audiences, used Sarah Michelle Gellar as the star and used the alternate title of The Grudge, which met decent popular success here. He has returned to Japan to make films for that more recognizable audience, with the latest being the 3D film Tormented, the second film he has shot in such a format (the first being Shock Labyrinth).
Shimizu not only directed, but co-wrote the screenplay with Sotoro Hayashi and Daisuke Hosaka. The subject of the film is Daigo, a young boy who makes the decision one day to kill a rabbit just outside the school he and his sister Kiriko attend. After this incident, Daigo gradually stops attending school and becomes the subject of bullying. Kiriko wants to help, but their father (who creates and illustrates pop-up books) does not play much of a factor into the decision. Kiriko takes Daigo to a 3D horror movie where a rabbit inexplicably comes out from the screen and turns into a doll that Daigo takes home. That is where things tend to turn a little bit sour for the family.
The key part of this movie is how well, if at all, you accept the movie's antagonist. The elephant (or in this case, bunny) in the room is so attached so how one may find the movie scary that if you think that it is silly or not scary, the movie automatically becomes a cinematic dirge. The only other way that it would possibly work is if Shimizu had constructed it in such a way that it was mildly satirical. Personally that was how I viewed it because, well, watching someone in a bunny suit walking across a playground while dramatic scary music is playing is pretty funny, so why not tell the story from that perspective? Well, to do so without any real ulterior motive leaves Tormented as a mild train wreck of sorts, with obligatory bodies thrown in to fill the horror film quota without any real investment in watching.
To the credit of the cast, mainly Hikari Mitsushima as Kiriko, they at least do their best with the material and sell it how they can. Mitsushima conveys caring, dread, and any other obligatory horror film protagonist emotion nicely, and Takeru Shibuya handles the role of Daigo well for a young person. And when it comes to Shimizu's visuals, there tends to be a way of going about them which reminded me in some cases of Park Chan-Wook, where the fourth wall was knocked upon loudly but in Shimizu's case, never quite breaks through. That combined with what appears to be a confused story are the two things that do not rise Tormented past any memorable horror film level.
If there is a positive to Shimizu returning to Japan to get his metaphorical groove back, it is that with Tormented he continues to explore his creativity within the 3D format. But while he attempts to evolve visually, from a storytelling perspective he just does not appear to be doing more than shuffling around old ideas with an occasional ineffective new one thrown in for good measure. If Shimizu is trying to reclaim North American success, then making Tormented was not the way to go about doing it.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Tormented comes with your choice of 2D or 3D presentations, both of which appear in 1.85:1 widescreen and in high-definition. I went with the 3D version, and I was impressed with its ideas. Granted, with a film that takes place in part at a theater with a 3D movie going on, some involvement was to be expected, but the film really keeps the 3D effects going past that environment and consistently throughout the film. That said, those effects are conveyed as a bit of a mixed back, with fluctuating brightness levels mid-sequence, whether it is things like pop-up books or a winding staircase that seems to go on forever. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who in the past has worked on Asian films like Hero and In the Mood For Love, apparently clashed with Shimizu, and perhaps this disc is the reason why. I have not watched many 3D Blu-rays since purchasing a new plasma set several months ago, but a disc like this does not help anyone with a buying decision.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track is the rule for the day, and the overall results are decent. One certainly hears the splats of rock against animal or brain against floor cleanly and without concern. Dialogue is clean and consistent through the film and the subwoofer manages to peek its head out and fill in some moments where low fidelity would be appreciated. Channel panning is mildly scarce, though the directional effects sound clear and effective. Dialogue is consistent through the film and centered in the front of the soundstage. All in all a pleasant experience.
Just the trailer and some additional previews. Blurg.
Tormented sums up the film in more than just a titular way, as it is a story that could have been told in a more entertaining way but was not, with performances that hardly did anything to lift the source material it was operating on. Technically the disc looks okay and sounds good, even if the extras are less so. I would hardly waste the time to watch it voluntarily, but if you are hard up for cheap scares, then this may be what you are looking for.