12:00 - 29th March 2014, by David West

The Complex

Hideo Nataka earned his place in the annals of eerie Japanese cinema back in 1998 with the original Ringu, a pivotal film that introduced international audiences to the joyous jolts of J-horror. However, in recent years, the filmmaker has failed to recapture the classic form of his breakthrough work or its freaky follow-up Dark Water - including his attempt to orchestrate an effective American Ring Two in 2005. His contribution to the globe-conquering Death Note franchise (L: Change The World from 2008) was a slow moving snoozefest, and, whilst The Complex is a step back in the right direction - and sees Nakata back in Japan (after 2010's laborious Hollywood-helmed Chatroom) - it is still not a patch on the chills of Ringu or Dark Water.

High school student Asuka (Atsuka Maeda) and her family have recently moved into an apartment in a slightly rundown building. At night, Asuka's sleep is disturbed by the sound of scratching coming from the apartment next door, and she is woken up at 5.30 every morning by an alarm that she can hear through the walls. When she decides to investigate the adjacent apartment during the daytime, she finds the corpse of an old man who appears to have died while trying to claw his way through the wall to her room next door. Was he trying to dig through the wall to reach something on the other side, or to escape something within the apartment?

The script to The Complex throws out plenty of misdirection - blending elements of physical haunting with a more interesting thread about psychological ghosts that plague the victims of past traumas. Where the movie eventually falls down is in its failure to fully bind the two strands together. The psychological angle provides the best plot twist in the tale, whereas the supernatural side takes over for the final act, which culminates in a multi-coloured showdown with the evil spirit tormenting Asuka. Nakata and his cameraman Junichiro Hayashi get rather carried away at this point, with rippling lighting effects all over the place and abrupt shifts in colour as the scene goes from red to green to blue in brisk succession. It would be less startling if the whole film had this pop art approach to colour, but everything that precedes the big finale is more naturalistic in style.

Leading lady Atsuka Maeda is a former member of the J-pop juggernaut that is girl-group AKB48 and she generally acquits herself well as an actress. She has good support from Hiroki Narimiya as Sasahara, a young man who works for a company that specialises in cleaning and emptying apartments where the occupants have died. Like Asuka, Sasahara has skeletons in his closet, figuratively speaking, so they share a bond. There is an odd plot device when Sasahara realises there are paranormal forces at work, so he calls up a friend of his who happens to be an exorcist. Presumably because all cleaning company workers know exorcists.

The exorcism sequence provides the springboard for the movie to dive into the visual excesses of the final act, so perhaps Sasahara's spiritualist friend drove out Nakata's directorial sense of judgement as well as any lingering, unfriendly ghosts.

If Nakata and his two writers had stuck with the psychological side of their story, The Complex would have been a much more satisfying and unsettling J-horror film.
SCORE: 3/5
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