The back cover of this DVD proudly proclaims “From the director of Ring 0: Birthday“. Well, given that Mark gave Ring 0: Birthday a hearty zero out of ten, that’s not much of a recommendation.
Nonetheless, I persevered, albeit with lowered expectations. And for the first 10 or so minutes, my expectations were met: the ‘happy family on holidays’ setup was cloyingly sweet and stiffly unconvincing. I wanted to smack the cheerfully inane smile off the mother, and throw the father’s laptop, and perhaps the cranky workaholic father, out of the window. Oddly enough, the only character that didn’t annoy me was the small girl. I say odd, because I’m not normally a child person, and generally detest charming cinematic tykes.
This was unfortunate, because the non-annoying tyke was dead within the first fifteen minutes. Rats-o-rama, I thought to myself. Now I’m left with Mr Cranky and Cheery Singing Woman, who’s bound to turn into Morose Sobbing Woman now that her singing partner is tragically dead.
But no! I was to be, not so much sadly disappointed, as pleasantly surprised. The acting firmed up, as though, once the actors got out of Cliche-land, they found something they could get their teeth into. The story developed extra dimensions, although not so many as to make things confusing. There was Mystery. There was Suspense.
And best of all, there were Schoolgirls. There’s nothing like a passel of Japanese schoolgirls to liven up just about any film, including this one. They provide a nice background of mundane, humdrum reality, against which Mr Cranky, with his newsprint intimations of mortality, looks increasingly odd. We get a pretty clear picture of a man, having already slid from grand heights to high school teaching, sliding further into the land of the completely barking mad.
There is one minor digression from Barking Mad Land, and it’s fairly silly. It seems that sex is a magic cure-all, because at one stage, Mr Cranky and his ex-wife reconcile. We see them the next morning, snuggled into crisp white sheets, and it seems all his problems have been cured overnight. Perhaps it’s better in Japanese.
Overall, it’s not a classic of Japanese horror. The acting is too flat, the direction lacks the genius that made Ring such a bowel-knotting masterpiece, and the consistency of the script is patchy. But it has some creepy moments, has enough strength in the plot to keep you seated for the full 91 minutes, and will undoubtedly please anyone who’s not as persnickety as I am.