“Marebito” – A.J. Hakari

One of the more heated topics involving pop culture today revolves around how desensitized people are becoming to whatever shocking acts they may see. With violent horror movies, grim crime shows, and a tendency for the news to focus on more tragic events, people are finding it harder and harder to be scared by much in this day and age. In Marebito, freelance cameraman Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is one of these people.

 

He trains his camera on the world around him, hoping to pick up something that will fill him with a sense of terror he has yet to experience even in the already scary real world. Then one day, Masuoka appears to get his wish after taping a man committing suicide in a subway station. The horribly scared look on the man’s face convinces him that whatever he saw has to lurk somewhere within the bowels of the subway. Sure enough, a little expedition uncovers an entire subterranean world, not to mention a pale, silent young woman (Tomomi Miyashita) Masuoka finds chained to a wall. After deciding to bring her home, Masuoka begins to get what he’s been asking for, learning about the nature of fear firsthand as he witnesses the girl’s dark history come to light.

 

I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or something more, but my encounters with films involving Shinya Tsukamoto have yet to turn up positive results. As a director, his revolutionary “cyberpunk” film Tetsuo: The Iron Man was a potential masterpiece ruined by a horrible visual style, and his introspective Vital proved to be a boring and repetitive meditation on love lost. With Marebito, however, he’s in front of the camera (leaving directorial duties to Takashi Shimizu, the man behind The Grudge and its original Japanese counterparts), so it’s rather unfortunate that the picture he’s starring in is less than perfect itself. Marebito is the latest in a line of Asian horror imports that try bringing something more to the genre than a few cheap thrills, introducing some new concepts and ideas into their respective stories to lend them more depth than one would normally expect. But instead of belonging to the camp of films successfully blending blend a creepy atmosphere with thought-provoking themes, Marebito lands on the other side of the river among movies so wrapped up in their own self-admiration for not bowing down to the cliches of the genre that they don’t notice the pretentious air invading their spaces.

 

Marebito doesn’t just want to say something; it wants to Say Something, but the trouble lies in choosing how to say it. A few solid points are made throughout the film about how the terrifying effect has been taken out of even the most horrifying acts (one scene has Masuoka pondering jumping off a bridge into traffic, only to realize he’s not the least bit afraid). Mostly, though, instead of letting viewers explore the story on their own and form their own thematic viewpoints, Shimizu treats his collective audience as if they were children, thematically taking them by the hand in how he packs nearly every inch of the film with progressively irritating narration that attempts to outline every single thought going through Masouka’s head. The irony here is that once in a while, this device conflicts with the tangent the story is moving along, making the movie even more confusing as it’s attempts to explain itself. The mysterious girl’s purpose is never really explained, the “Deros” (solid-white creatures whose reason for living is to skitter around during the movie’s subliminal moments) are never fleshed out or explored, and the big twist introduced during the film’s climax arrives with a thud, almost negating everything that took place before it and only serving to further infuriating the viewers (so like Silent Hill, Japanese-style). It’s also no help that Tsukamoto doesn’t make the most engaging lead; I realize that part of his character involves being a homely dude on a search to discover true fear, but that doesn’t mean viewers enjoy seeing him wear a blank expression and lug a video camera around for 90 minutes.

 

Marebito has plenty of atmosphere to spare, creating a stark and eerie environment via crisp, low-key cinematography. Unfortunately, the film looks scarier more than it actually scares. It freaks out the eyes while leaving the brain perplexed and bored. Although a good try at making a horror movie that’s meant to be more than just a horror movie, Marebito ends up blissfully going on its creepy little way, unaware of how stuffy and scare-free it often appears.

 

Rating: ★★☆☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

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