The Complex (2013): Hideo Nakata Swedish Inspiration

Hiroki Narimiya, Atsuko Maeda in The Complex
Fans of J-Horror and Hideo Nakata will enjoy his 2013 film The Complex aka Kuroyuri danchi. While this offering is not on par with his 1998 film Ring, or the 2002 feature Dark Water, it was influenced, apparently, by the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. It also seems to have taken a bit from the 2005 thriller Hide and Seek although it has no imaginary friend there are elements of that film’s plot in this low-key J-Horror. The film is one of those plot changing films that the Japanese do so well in the genre of horror.

The Complex starts off as a low-key disturbing look at the new neighbors.

Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) has moved into a new complex with her parents and little brother. She can hear noises from the flat next door and when she suggests complaining her mother tells her that they have only just moved in. The film starts with a happy families feel. Mom in the kitchen, Dad setting up the family TV and little brother Satoshi messing about. The opening sequence does not feel right, the light is too bright, the parents seem a bit off and the singing bird appears to be on a computerized loop.

As unpacking continues, Asuka’s mother asks her to take cakes around to the new neighbors. The girl takes the package next door and while she never sees the inhabitant, the cakes are taken. Later she will hear scratching noises from the apartment next door and an alarm that goes off at half five in the morning.

Asuka also meets a little boy named Minoru whom she plays with. At her nursing school, she learns that her apartment complex has a reputation for being haunted. As she settles in, Asuka finds the next door neighbor’s body and she believes the old man is now haunting her.

She is right, the old man’s spirit has attached itself to her but not for the reason she believes. The ghost is trying to warn her. A cleaning worker, Sasahara (played by Azumi actor Hiroki Narimiya) tries to help Asuka which results in horrific consequences for all concerned.

The movie takes a couple of twists and turns that may seem confusing at first. But like many good J-Horror films, repeated viewings, or just going over the events afterward make the whole thing much clearer. Asuka is desperately lonely and full of guilt from a childhood incident that resulted in the death of her family. The young woman has issues and her moving to the complex has set her up for a fall.

Nakata’s feature feels like a hodgepodge of several different films, the aforementioned movies most surely and it borrows somewhat from the 2001 J-Horror Shadow of the Wraith, aka Ikisudama, just without the teen element and hokey music. This film’s “villain” though is a small “cute kid” ghost that turns out to be quite nasty.

In reality this is pretty standard fare. Nothing like Hideo’s earlier work. (Admittedly it is hard to trump films like Ring, Ring 2, Dark Water and the thought provoking 2010 film Chatroom.) Shot digitally, the film looks good, although the CG in some instances does not hold up to close scrutiny. The shot of the apartment wall changing is clearly computer generated and takes away from the moment.

All the actors do a more than capable job with their various roles. Kudos to Atsuko Maeda who brings Asuka to life. At the end of the film we believe completely in her character and her ending. Hideo Nakata has lost none of his deft touch with horror. This film is enjoyable and there are some real hair raising moments (although not for too long and none that are overly memorable) and bits that will make the viewer think.

The Complex, apparently was made into a television show with Atsuko Maeda (who appears in episode 1.12) titled The Complex: Prologue, This Hideo Nakata offering is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Those who hate subtitles will want to give this one a miss.

Hide and Seek [Sum-bakk-og-jil] 2013 (Review and Trailer)

Hide and Seek

Written and Directed by Jung Huh this offering appears to be his first ever feature film and Hide and Seek is set against an urban myth of squatters in South Korea who live illegally in homes while the owners are still in them. On top of this myth, is the story of a successful business owner  attempting to find his estranged and missing brother.

The movie starts in a derelict section of town, a woman is talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone as she walks home. After almost being mugged, or assaulted, she says that she can no longer live in this neighborhood. As she gets in the lift, a stranger in black motorcycle gear gets on with her and as the young woman warily keeps an eye on the helmeted figure, she goes into her flat.

Shortly after entering the woman discovers that someone has been in her apartment while she was out. She goes to confront her next door neighbor, the person in the helmet, and this mysterious figure shows up and murders the woman in her own home.

The businessman, who owns a coffee shop/restaurant has OCD and despite this little problem, which he takes medication for, he has a normal family with two children and a wife. He receives a phone call saying that his estranged brother has gone missing and once he hears this bit of information his OCD gets worse.

Seong-soo, the businessman, goes to collect his missing brother’s belongings and tries to track him down. The film is a combination of mystery, drama, thriller and horror. The “villain” in the film is terrifying enough to give the audience nightmares. Not because of their appearance but because of the level of their madness.

One viewer felt that Hide and Seek is a reimagining of Dream Home, but there is no basis for this at all. Dream Home, the 2010 Hong Kong horror film about a desperate woman who uses murder as a way to get around the problem of over-expensive real estate, bears no resemblance to this little treat from South Korea.

There are plenty of nail bitting moments in this 107 minute film and as a first effort for the director it does not fail to impress. All the actors convince in their various roles and the subplot of a brother’s guilt about telling a lie and getting his older sibling in trouble just adds to the tension.

The two small children are excellent in the scenes where they are terrified and the two interact very well in others, so much so that they feel like a real brother and sister. Hide and Seek has several film plots and threads running simultaneously and it is to everyone’s credit that the film never gets confusing.  Great plot, performances and suspense. There are points where the viewer will be on the edge of their seat.

This is a real 5 star film and well worth the effort of watching even for viewers who may not like subtitled films. Hide and Seek is available on US Netflix at the moment.

House at the End of the Street (2012): Naughty Neighbours

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Looking this up on IMDb after I’d watched it, I was amazed to see quite a few folks just flat-out did not like this film. Apparently they were expecting some type of horror slasher flick and not what they got which was a physiological thriller.

I’ll admit that as a “horror” film, this falls flat. As a thriller though, it hits all the right marks and had me on the edge of my seat through at least half of the film. Hats off to the director Mark Tonderai for coming up with an effort that kept the suspense tight and the mayhem to a minimum.

The Plot:

At the film’s start a daughter kills her mother and father with a hammer and then runs off into the surrounding woods. Years later a divorced mother and her daughter move into the house next door. After being told that the house is empty after the tragedy the new neighbours find out that the couple had a son who survived the young girls murderous onslaught and he now lives in the house.

The Device:

You have to look very closely to see what is right in front of you and you can’t choose your neighbours.

The Cast: 

Jennifer Lawrence
Max Thieriot
Elisabeth Shue
Sarah
Gil Bellows
Weaver
Eva Link

*Cast courtesy of IMDb.*

Elissa and Ryan in a bonding moment.
Elissa and Ryan in a bonding moment.

The Story:

Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) moves into a lovely house in a rural setting that is to die for with her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence). Sarah explains to Elissa that the only reason that they can afford to rent this house is because of the brutal double murder that occurred in the house directly behind them. This event has driven the property prices down and therefore the rent price as well.

Soon after moving in, the two women find out that Ryan (Max Thieriot) lives in the house where his sister murdered their parents. Slightly spooked, Sarah becomes a bit too over protective of Elissa who has bonded with the strange young man.  While our sympathy lies with Ryan, it soon turns out that there is more going on here than meets the eye.

The Twist:

You can’t always choose your family members either.

The Verdict:

This film received a lot of bad reviews from some folks because they misunderstood the genre of the film. That is probably down to the marketing of the film more than an actual poor performances from the film’s main cast. If you watch the “official” trailer it promises a more roller coaster ride of a film, where as in actual fact the film builds at a steady pace versus a breakneck one.

I found it to be a taut suspenseful build up of tension. The main characters, Lawrence and Shue especially interacted well as the two victims of a marriage gone bad and their awkward attempts at bonding in their “new life.” Thieriot made me think of a young Casey Affleck gone bad. He exuded an air of wounded vulnerability that bordered on the dangerous. Unfortunately the “secondary” members of the cast could have been replaced easily. (With the exception of the local cop Weaver (Gil Bellows) who felt like every conscientious small town cop who likes the new pretty woman in town.

All in all, I’d give this film a 4 out of 5 stars because it was a superb thriller and not a horror film. It loses a star because of the wooden and one-dimensional secondary characters.

Neat Fact:

This is at least the second time that the lovely Elisabeth Shue has been threatened by a scary youngster, the first being her deadly encounter with a young Dakota Fanning in Hide and Seek.

The ever lovely Elisabeth Shue.
The ever lovely Elisabeth Shue.