Sunday, 6 May 2012

Why Marebito is the best sleeping pill

AKA. The Stranger From Afar

After many repeated attempts, I have finally got all the way through Takashi 'The Grudge' Shimizu's 2004 digitally shot horror, Marebito. The fact it took me this long should give you an idea of where my thoughts on it are goiung.

The film is about a man who becomes obsessed with the idea of terror when he witnesses a man stab out his own eyes and kill himself on video. Armed with just a camcorder, the man explores the abandoned underground tunnels of Japan, encountering some odd forms and getting strict warnings. Eventually he comes across an underworld where he finds a naked woman chained. He brings her home and tries to care for her, but she won't eat or drink and gets sicker and sicker, until the man discovers that she needs blood to sustain herself.

Wait, did they use this image for the poster,
but add a sheet on her?!

The film is very small in scope, with the underworld he discovers the woman in being the best part for me. I'm a sucker for something unknown being right under our noses. But the film spends more time dwelling on his relationship with the woman and the growing dissonance between them as he begins to consider her little more than a pet. There is some convolution with men in black keeping an eye on him, but a nice bit of mind-messing is added when his (ex?) wife shows up, accusing him of kidnapping their daughter, which inevitably puts you on the path of whether the woman kept in his apartment is some other worldly beast or his daughter and he has just become psychotic.

The film crept up on many people's top 10 J-horror lists and I figured I'd better give it a go, especially since I'm a big fan of both the US and Japanese Grudge films. Unfortunately, this film is nowhere near as good as them. According to IMDb, the film was shot in 8 days, and it kind of feels it. Aesthetically, I can go with the rough digital look, especially as the main character has a camcorder obsession, but many of the techniques used for scares, with the time and budget constraints, come out looking like cheap student film efforts.

The reason it took me so long to get through this film is that it kept sending me to sleep. That should be a good indication of how horrific it is. But you could successfully argue that the film is more the psychological horror the man is going through/seeking. Problem is that that is still quite boring. The bulk of the film is in his apartment, with the lead giving cringy voice-overs that ham-fistedly try drive home the point this is a disillusioned man seeking to discover the true terror he saw another experience. And then we find out the woman wants blood, which set off alarm bells for me (I have little time for vampires).

Though thankfully she doesn't sparkle.

This film could actually be a successful remake though. I know, I know, who wants another remake, right? But the thing is, this film has a great idea, but gets it fundamentally wrong. With a bit more time and scope, maybe some more exploration of the underworld, which is easily the most intriguing and close to horror moments of the film, the film could be a great claustrophobic horror, perhaps even found footage (I can hear the collective groan out there, shut up!). 

A film with some high ideas that just do not work on a cheap level. A for effort, C for execution.