PLOT: Two university students, whose friends died in similarly gruesome ways, uncover the secret of a vengeful spirit called Shirai-San, whose name, when spoken, carries a terrible curse.
REVIEW: There’s something very retro about what’s going on with Japanese horror films this year at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. The opening night movie, SADAKO, is a continuation of the RINGU series, while STARE, coming from Japanese director Hirotaka Adachi (who writes novels under the pen name Otsuichi), tries to bring the classic J-horror formula into the modern era.
As such, STARE is a mixed bag. The problem with this kind of classic J-horror, for me anyways, is that if you’ve seen one you’ve kinda seen them all. RINGU stands as a classic (so does it’s American remake, THE RING), as do entries such as JU-ON, PULSE, DARK WATER, but the whole vengeful spirit thing has kinda been done to death – and that’s not even counting the endless American clones, with this year’s THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA, proving the genre still isn’t dead in North America.
So, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if STARE eventually gets an Americanized remake (J-horror lends itself well to PG-13 horror), but overall it’s pretty standard, and middle-of-the-road for this genre. It does, however, have a cool way for the spirit, Shirai-San, to dispatch her victims. What happens here is that the victims all seem to die of major heart attacks, with the added bonus being that their eyeballs explode at the same time their hearts give out, prompting much confusion from coroners.
The curse is also agreeably straight-forward. Rather than pass around a videotape or anything like that, all you really have to do to get cursed is to hear the name Shirai-San. Like in the original RINGU, STARE unrolls as a bit of a mystery yarn, with university student Haruo (Yu Inaba) investigating the death of his brother, who called him in terror just before expiring. His search leads him to Mizuki (Marie Iitoyo), whose best friend died the same way – and it turns out the two knew each other. From there, they learn the two had the misfortune of attending a party where a friend of theirs told them a ghost story involving Shirai-San (another ghost with pale skin, straight black hair and creepy eyes), cursing all of them. Meanwhile, a journalist recovering from a personal tragedy joins the hunt, as the body count gets higher and higher.
While overall, STARE is old-hat and not particularly absorbing, there are a few things I liked about it. For one, the fact that all it takes is hearing the name to curse you is a good hook. I also like the super mathematical way Mizuki looks at the problem, taking it apart in a very post-modern way and trying to figure out a way to minimize the curse through logic. People that always poke holes in the curses present in movies like IT FOLLOWS should get a kick out of this. However, the movie also suffers from some silly melodrama, a relationship between the two leads that’s awfully saccharine, and an overly austere (one might even say dull) approach that makes the film feel longer than it’s ninety minutes and change running time.
Worst of all though is the fact that, for me anyways, STARE just isn’t scary. While the casual nature of the curse is fresh, as is the way they eventually try to deal with it, it’s still not a particularly thrilling movie to watch. However, this is coming from someone who’s not a huge fan of the late nineties/early 2000’s era of J-horror, so aficionados may like this a whole lot more than I did (the reaction at the Fantasia screening was apparently quite good). If this is your cup of tea, you might want to give it a try, but otherwise, skip it.