It's a Japanese horror movie from the director of The Grudge
, where the monster seems to be a man in a rabbit costume.
Isn't that awesome? I love it. Wouldn't you laugh your head off at a remake of Friday the 13th in which Jason Vorhees was a furry? I suppose Donnie Darko did something similar, but there Richard Kelly chickened out by doing a scary-looking Evil Rabbit. This on the other hand is a regular rabbit costume. He's big. He's white. He's got floppy ears. For all I know, they simply hired it. You'll see similar costumes wandering around at Disneyland. He's only unusual in that Shimizu's made him a bit more like a real rabbit, talking in actual rabbit noises (which sounds weird) and having eyes that can blink. That's creepier than it sounds.
In other words, this is a horror movie in which the monster appears to be James Stewart's best friend in Harvey. Better still, it's not a comedy. This is serious-minded rabbit horror.
Unfortunately there's a downside, which is that this hook is misleading. It's a bait-and-switch movie, in which the rabbit ends up getting less screen time than you'd be expecting (and hoping). False advertising, I call it. Mind you, the English-language release is boringly called Tormented, which might either be expectation management or else the distributors running scared. Anyway, a fair few people will have gone away disappointed from this film... which would be a shame, since I think it has some interesting, if slightly understated, material.
The story involves a mute school librarian who "talks" by writing on a notepad (Hikari Mitsushima) and her half-brother (Takeru Shibuya). Shibuya's a lot younger than Mitsushima, probably about ten or so, and he kills a rabbit in the film's first scene. This leads us into more rabbitry and eventually the arrival of Harvey (as I'll call him). There are dream sequences, which have creepy moments but still suffer from being dream sequences. A Rabbit Hutch on Elm Street?
To a certain extent, this is misdirection.
This is a more intimate film than it looks. There are disquieting points about the relationship between Mitsushima and Shibuya, such as the fact that she seems to be taking him to see a horror film with her in the cinema and the fact that she's letting him play truant. Furthermore, Mitsushima wasn't always mute. We see her talking in childhood flashbacks and we hear her thoughts in the film's voice-over. There was a bad incident in her past, involving her semi-broken father and his second wife.
It's like a ghost story, except different and stranger. It's similar in in its narrative effect, though, with its interweaving of past and present. It has the best kind of relevations, giving logical sense to little points that might have been puzzling you, and in the end I really rather liked the story it's telling. Harvey's fallen by the wayside, but that's okay. It's psychological, taking us to some broken places in its characters' messed-up minds. This isn't terrifying horror like Ju-on, but instead gentler and more insidious. I also liked the symbolism, with heavy use made of symbols of transformation (daffodils, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid).
The bad news is that it's a Japanese 3D horror movie. I was thus expecting a crime against cinema, having seen Sadako 3D
. However Takashi Shimizu is a far better director than Tsutomu Hanabusa and I think the film survives. Crucially his cinematographer is Christopher Doyle, the award-winning Australian cinematographer best known for his Chinese-language films. Nevertheless, that said, I think there's something about J-horror that, for me, fundamentally doesn't work in 3D. It becomes less intimate. It feels a bit too glossy and plastic. That said, Shimizu is making a pretty good fist of it and has a couple of bravura sequences with his characters sitting in a cinema watching a 3D film... but personally I'm still waiting for a director to find the magic key to make 3D work with J-horror.
The acting's fine. Takeru Shibuya has a couple of moments where he could have been stronger, but he's a child actor. He does a decent job. Hikari Mitsushima was in Death Note and in Sion Sono's Love Exposure. Also Teruyuki Kagawa, playing their father, has been in more films I've seen than I'd realised and is apparently the son of a famous kabuki actor, Ichikawa Ennosuke III.
By the way, there's some surprising and sobering information after the closing credits.
Shimizu has called this a companion film to The Shock Labyrinth 3D, which I'll be watching despite its title. Overall, I quite liked this. It's subtle, personal and more intelligent than I'd expected. These are good things in a film. I think it has a marketing problem, in that it encourages critics and trailers to concentrate on things that aren't actually very important. In Japan, for instance, it was apparently marketed as a riff on Alice in Wonderland. In a superficial way that's not wrong as such (e.g. childhood, dreams, a white rabbit), but I wouldn't call it helpful either. If you go in with accurate expectations, I see no reason to find this underwhelming.