Last year for The Robot’s Pajamas Horror Month I wrote about an Australian documentary-style “found footage” film entitled Lake Mungo. This year, I return with another “found footage” feature—which is unique because this is a sub-genre of horror that I’m not the biggest fan of and am very critical of. This time around, I’m going to talk about a Japanese film that, like Mungo, is a documentary style feature.
The movie is called Noroi (The Curse, in English) and it begins with a tale about the filmmaker’s home burning down. The fire claimed his wife and he is currently missing. The filmmaker’s name is Masafumi Kobayashi (Jim Muraki) and he studies the paranormal. He’s written many books on the subject and produced several documentaries but it is in this final documentary that our story takes place. The film was recovered and shows Kobayashi investigating a mysterious woman named Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga). What begins as a neighbor complaining about hearing mysterious noises from Ishii’s house starts to take a dark turn as Kobayashi digs deeper into the investigation and he soon learns that an ancient demon may be behind all of what’s happening.
Noroi is one of those slow burning horror films that spends its time very methodically building the story and unraveling the investigation of Kobayashi. The film is never outright scary because it settles for a sense of unease and a tone of overall creepiness rather than just getting to the immediate jump scare. Some viewers might find this film builds too slowly and I won’t deny that because there are definitely times where the story drags and you just want to get to a part that will scare you. That’s the real difficulty with the slow burn approach to storytelling. You have to find that right balance to make the story compelling. You have to unravel the tale at a perfect pace so that it never moves too slow, too fast or feels like it is repeating itself for time (that last one was the biggest problem I had with It Follows). Noroi is a bit of a double-edged sword in this manner because it wants to take the time to slowly unfurl its story and it doesn’t compromise its running length to do so but being nearly two hours long does feel a tad lengthy for a horror film. However, for the most part, Noroi succeeds in presenting a slow burn that works and contains very few moments of slowing down. Along with this, it has some very creepy moments and some intrigue with what is causing the whole ordeal.
For a long time, horror films (especially the “found footage” sub-genre) have pretty much become constructed completely on the cheap and easy jump scare (watch the new Blair Witch film—the whole movie is just things jumping into frame) and seeing a film, even one that came out in 2005, actively go against this is quite refreshing—even re-watching it now. That isn’t to say that Noroi is never unsettling. There are very, very creepy moments that are littered in throughout the story that made my heart beat faster, caused my skin to crawl, and just have an overall feeling of dread. Being a documentary-style film, the movie also does something that few horror films will do and that is literally repeat the scary moments. In a similar fashion that a pseudo-science show on Bigfoot or those ghost hunting shows will do when they have a moment of “evidence,” Noroi will actually repeat the creepy scene that just happened or recently played out. Logic would argue that this would lessen the impact of what you just saw but, instead, it gives the whole thing a legitimate feel and actually makes the moment even creepier.
A large part of the appeal I have for Noroi is that realistic feel the film has. A big issue I have with “found footage” films is that they lack realism. Things like Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project have stood the test of time because they felt so authentic and legitimate; while more modern features feel poorly staged and formulaic. They never feel grounded in reality but Noroi feels very real from beginning to end. It has some issues with its CG and on repeat viewings these moments stand out and look fake but everything from the camera work, editing, presentation to the performances feel real and not like your run-of-the-mill cliché “found footage” films that have overflowed the market in the last ten plus years.
I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this film. It might have been recommended to me or I read about it on some list on the internet but I was pretty enthralled with the film the first time I saw it. It definitely creeped me out in ways few horror films can because I’m not the type of person who finds jump scares that pleasant. They’re momentary and they’re gone not long after they happen and being a film nerd I’ve learned they are all way too easy to telegraph and see coming. I’m a person who wants the deep scares, the psychological terror that few American horror films can provide. I want a horror film to stay with me and not have something that just is spooky in the moment. Noroi gave that to me but this movie isn’t for everyone. It’s a “found footage” film that refuses to do what is popular with the sub-genre and it’s a horror film that is actively against going that easy scare. Ultimately, though, this is what makes Noroi both creepy and fascinating at the same time and makes it transcend your typical horror feature.
Rev. Ron is a shut-in who spends his time watching movies and reading comics. He fears the outside world and hasn’t learned the simplicities of social interaction. He also likes ice cream. You can read more of his stuff here on The Robot’s Pajamas but you can also read his extensive collection of movie reviews on his blog at RevRonMovies.BlogSpot.com. He’d also like it if you followed him on Twitter (@RevRonster).