Horror Bites - Onryō


It's been a long time since the J-Horror craze was big, but it's still fun to check out the original films which started the trend. It's interesting to see how things began in the days before everything was digitally graded to make it look spookier and prior to so many remakes and sequels. Ju-On is an absurdly long running series, and though this movie was first released in English speaking regions it's actually part three of a franchise that has by now over ten instalments; not including short films. But the narrative was never the strongest element, so it just about works by itself. Let's go back and take a look at where for things started for those of us outside Japan.

What story there is concerns a grisly murder and a subsequent haunted house. Everyone that goes inside ends up dead or missing in one way or another... and there's not much else to it. The episodic nature of the film doesn't help things as title cards break up the chapters and things appear out of order. For the most part it follows a family who moved into the place, and later the social workers looking in on their elderly mother after things go awry. There are also tangents about schoolgirls vanishing after going in as a dare and a few other threads. It's not exactly a flowing structure that provides any kind of major set up and pay off, it's just a jumble of ghost story vignette moments.

Parts that do still work are generally fun, including visits from angry spectres in the bedroom when you least expect it, as well as in cupboards and on TV screens. The uneasy feeling it creates when they don't follow any kind of rules and come out of just about anywhere is pretty effective. The overall atmosphere is gloomy and claustrophobic when everything is centred around the same house, which is shown in various states of disarray as time moves back and forth. It's one of those movies which has always looked older than it is with washed out colours and drab scenery, which adds to the general mood.

Other parts are just kind of silly, and by the end the sinister death rattle and the cat cries of the mother and son spirit duo are more amusing than anything else. The shot of a school teacher flying up through an attic hatch as she's grabbed by the ghoulies is definitely a chuckle worthy moment. It's a weird mixture of unsettling images and less sinister moments to say the least, but it's mostly entertaining. The lack of focus and unclear plotting is the main detriment to all of this in the end, as characters appear and reappear, are reported dead but later show up in flashbacks. I guess it's not that important; the vengeful dead are not something which need a mass of exposition beyond the opening text. However in it's own genre there are better offerings to found.