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Review: The Complex (Fantasia)

PLOT: Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) - a young nursing student- moves into a new apartment building with her family. Following some strange nocturnal activity, Asuka is horrified to discover the body of her neighbor, an elderly man who died of neglect, and has been decomposing for days. After he’s taken away, the disturbances get more and more vivid and hard to ignore, and eventually turn into horrifying visions, and nightmares, all of which are somehow related to the old man’s vengeful spirit, as well as a the lonely young boy Asuka has befriended.

REVIEW: THE COMPLEX marks the long awaited (by some) return of J-horror (Japanese Ghost-horror), from the man who arguably started the trend, Hideo Nakata. Nakata’s had an interesting career. In the late-nineties, his movie RINGU kicked off the J-horror wave, which he continued with DARK WATER (remade in the U.S by Walter Salles) and then, he went to the U.S to direct THE RING 2, a sequel to the American remake of RINGU. Since THE RING 2’s ultimate failure, Nakata’s worked steadily, with movies like the British CHATROOM, and the Japanese thriller THE INCITE MILL. But, THE COMPLEX is his first full-on return to the genre that not only made him famous, but also (briefly) dominated North American horror as well (THE GRUDGE, PULSE, etc).

The problem with THE COMPLEX is that, while it’s undeniably a well-made film, it suffers from all of the same problems that led to the decline of J-horror both in Japan and in the U.S; mainly that it’s stale and overly familiar. In fact, THE COMPLEX feels very much like a blend of Nakata’s two most famous movies, with the spooky apartment from DARK WATER, and the creepy kid from RINGU (this time a young boy, rather than a young girl) being thrown together.

Just like other entries into the genre, THE COMPLEX is very slow, and rather tame. If it had been made five years ago, it probably would have gotten an immediate American remake. There’s a twist about forty-minutes into THE COMPLEX which is probably meant to be utterly shocking, but if you’ve seen enough of these movies you’ll see it coming a mile away. It leads to a long detour where the horrific aspects of the film are disregarded in favor of exploring Asuka’s psychological state. While Atsuko Maeda makes for a perfectly likable heroine, she can’t help the fact that everything here just feels so darn familiar, to the point that THE COMPLEX is rarely scary, but often boring.

Things do pick up slightly towards the end, once Nakata gets to the movie’s one really memorable set piece, a distinctly Japanese-style exorcism that puts a new twist on an extremely familiar horror hallmark. Still, that’s not really enough to save THE COMPLEX from being utterly forgettable, even though it might find some fans among J-horror aficionados. As for myself, while I loved both RINGU and THE RING, I can’t say that I’m overly enthused with a return to J-horror, as the glut of American PG-13 Japanese horror remakes pretty much killed mainstream horror movies for a while, although thanks to movies like SINISTER, INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, the genre in making a comeback. THE COMPLEX is only really a must-see if you think Nakata’s J-horror style is ingenious. To me, THE COMPLEX is competent but bland. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and a return to a genre that’s largely played itself out.

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