13 September 2006 | kasserine
Ju Rei: The Unscary
If you're unacquainted with Japanese horror films, and JU REI: THE UNCANNY is your first outing, you may actually enjoy it and find it worthwhile. If not, then, unfortunately, there is not much to recommend. JU REI: THE UNCANNY so faithfully covers all the bases of the genre that there is nothing that isn't predictable and stale.
The film has all the slow moving, crawling, from out of nowhere ghoulish figures that have been presented much better in films like JU ON, and, of course, RINGU. So, any viewer whose seen those film, and especially viewers who are fans of the genre will, most likely be bored with JU REI.
My impression is that JU REI is part of the Japanese V-Cinema industry. I don't know this for a fact; it's just my impression. This industry is the same one that gave Takashi Maaike such a following, amongst others. Of course, V-Cinema is a perfectly respectable industry in Japan. Put simply, films made for V-Cinema go direct to video and do not get released to theaters. Whereas, in the United States, direct to video might imply poor quality or a failure, in Japan it is a respected medium However, JU REI has more of the US style direct to video feel then the higher quality Japanese V-Cinema one. And, that, of course, is not a compliment. It feels like the filmmakers were trying to cash in on the popularity of RINGU and JU ON and came up with a rather formulaic, by the numbers horror flick. It also appears to me to be shot on digital video, also a hallmark of the low budget, quick buck American direct to video market. And while the film seems to have been competently shot and acted, it really has no sense of identity.
JU REI clocks in at a mere 77 minutes and is organized in 10 chapters. The film opens with chapter 10 and works it's way back to the 1st chapter and then a prelude. In chapter 10 we see some Japanese schoolgirls dancing to a boom box in an alleyway late at night. Suffice it to say that things don't go so well from there. Bad for them and bad for us since it's the first indication that JU REI is on the low rent side of things. By this I mean, their demise is pretty silly and consists of arms reaching up from out of frame and grabbing them. The film then cuts to the next chapter. We learn, as the film works it's way to the prelude sequence, that there is a mysterious hooded figure that curses people by contact. These cursed individuals will then, ultimately, forward the curse to the next victim. So, connecting the chapters are the victims in the earlier chapters killing/cursing the victims in the subsequent later chapters. Sort of a perverse "pay it forward" set up.
I don't have a problem with this scenario even given that is so typical of Japanese horror; it's the execution that brings it down. As I mentioned, the film is decently acted and competently shot, it's just not inventive in any way and lacks tension in most of the chapters. The ghoulish victims aren't very menacing and each chapter ends just as the victim is being cursed/killed.
I will say, however, there were two shorts moments in JU REI that were quite compelling. One in which, a young schoolboy is waiting at school to be picked up by his mother. In the sequence, the boy thinks his mother is waiting for him at the top of a staircase, and goes towards the figure. Well, it wasn't mom. This small moment worked very well and actually, disturbed me a little. The second moment was a scene in which an elderly woman is confined to a bed in a nursing home. The poor woman is trapped and terrified as one of the mysterious figures slowly comes to get her. The moment was drawn out and worked quite well. Both scenes were similar in the sense that two relatively helpless characters, a child and an elderly woman, were menaced and, ultimately, consumed by this evil. It was rather unnerving. Unfortunately, these two moments only took about four minutes of screen time and were definitely the exception as far as genuine scares go.
So, like a lot of American direct to video films, and unlike many of their Japanese counterparts, JU REI fails to deliver and only manages a few creepy moments. Asian horror fans might find some aspects of the film interesting, considering it is such a pastiche of more successful films, but viewers new to the genre would be better served starting off with RINGU or any number of other Japanese films in this genre.