Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Death Curse Tape (No. Not Sadako's) :Gurozuka (2005)

Gurozuka (Japan, 2005)
Rating: **
starring: Nozomi Andô, Yukari Fukui, Yûko Itô

Japan never seem to like their horror flicks simple as they usually put some depth and/or weirdness to them, one way or another. For many, this is good as it does give us something different for our genre films as well as show us a thing or two about another country's culture and what is their perception of horror.

With this kind of mindset, I find myself both fearful and giddy about Japanese slashers as you wouldn't know what kind of crazy twist this country would do to a rather formulaic horror sub-genre. They already impressed me with the uber-violent yet artsy Evil Dead Trap (1988), showed me they can do it simple with Black Rat (2007), and disturbed me with unrelentless gore with Lesson of the Evil (2012); so what can I expect from Gurozuka?

A whole lot of bitching and barely any killing. Oh, boy...

After finding an apparent snuff film wherein a girl in a mask hacks another to death, two college girls, Ai and Maki, decided to investigate this as a project for their campus' newly revived film club. Tricking three girls from the drama club into joining them, and accompanied by Maki's teacher older sister Yoko (who in turn brought along her possible lesbian lover, Takako, who is no older than the rest of the girls), the group had a simple start despite a few arguments. That was until the following morning came.

Upon waking up, the group discovers their food and phones missing, and everybody was quick to point fingers. However, it seems the commodities are not the only things that will go missing that day as one by one, the girls start turning up dead as someone in a haunting Noh mask and wielding a bloody billhook prowls the woods.

A big part of me really wants to love Gurozuka; the plot itself sounds like an Asian take on a whodunit in the vein of 70s Italian gialli, evident with its heavy reliance on mystery and red herrings, and its lack of exploitative elements and onscreen killings. It also has a workable tone, establishing a sullen and uneasy atmosphere quite early into the group's predicament as it has its shares of double crosses, scandals, personal agendas, things that inevitably say that the bunch is not quite trustworthy among themselves and that anybody can later be behind that creepy theater mask, killing people.

It looks posh for a low budget film and it even packs a few creepy imagery that are in touch with the surrealist nature of Japanese horror. Regrettably though, Gurozuka is still relatively hackneyed as both a slasher and a Japanese horror flick, a part of the blame falling on the absence of rootable characters since nearly everybody here takes their time seriously and most likely having a bone to pick with someone within the group. This is nothing new for murder mysteries or even a few slashers, but it's overplayed and got tiring really fast, eventually making me wonder if a chase scene or two would have made me care for these doomed gals if it ever come to that.

Things further went downhill when, instead of finding ways to defend themselves and be more rootable heroines, the "horror-filled" second act was no more than the girls panicking and hiding from the killer, scarcely fighting off, singing songs to calm themselves (no really) and somehow finding the time to express their deep ingratitude to one another even when they're dying. It all leads to a predictable payoff with a boring little number about someone being in-love on a homicidal (and cannibalistic) level, topped with an open ending that hints a bit of the supernatural. It's convoluted, yes, but still a rather lifeless way to end what could have been a decent b-flick.

Needless to say, Gurozuka are among the many slasher titles out there that had potential. It already have some good elements thrown in such as a fair-looking killer and, again, a workable mystery concerning whether the snuff was real or not, or whether it is cursed. Somewhere in the line, these trappings get trapped within the overambitious direction that burnt this film overcooked, resulting to a somewhat okay but agreeably underwhelming film.

If you are an Asian horror junkie, I guess this film is worth a try. Slasher fans can too if they can keep their expectations low. Really low.

1 female hacked to death with a billhook
1 female attacked with a billhook, later found burnt
1 female found with throat cut
1 female found dead with head wound
1 female dies from hack wounds
1 female stabbed on the chest with a nail
Total: 6