“He didn’t see something that terrified him, he saw something because he was terrified.” That pretty much sums up the intriguing premise of this strangely haunting Japanese horror movie.
Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a cameraman whose entire world is seen through portals — his computer monitor, the lens of his video camera, the pinprick of light at the end of a tunnel — so when he passes through one of them and meets a skinny, naked female creature (Tomomi Miyashita) called a Dero, he isn’t sure what to do. In order to feel alive, he embraces the terror and brings her home with him. He names her “F” (for “fear”? We’re never told what the “F” stands for) and tries to care for her but soon finds that an otherworldly creature doesn’t make a very good housepet.
Masuoka finally realizes that the feral vampire needs blood and so he feeds her — from his own wounds, with animals, and finally with human victims. Much like Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, vampirism is not glamorous or sexy in Marebito. It’s grotesque and pathetic and while there’s no fun in that, this movie is at least interesting and reasonably well-plotted.
I think writer/director Takashi Shimizu is just the nicest guy — I’ve interviewed him a few times — so I hate to not like his movies, but I have to say I haven’t been impressed up till now. Marebito is better than Ju-On: The Grudge and its multiple sequels, and it’s better than the American-produced The Grudge. Marebito has some truly cringe-inducing imagery, including the stabbing of an eyeball, the guzzling of blood from a slashed wrist, and the brutal murder of an innocent woman in broad daylight.
Filmed on DV in a mere eight days, this dreamy, atmospheric movie does a great job of showing how a technophile exists in a completely artificial world (“It doesn’t seem real until I see it on tape,” says Masuoka) while contending with a demanding creature that can’t possibly exist, as his sanity slithers away. The music (composed by Toshiyuki Takine) is quite bold, and the two main actors command the screen.
Marebito falls apart a bit at the end and gets a little muddled what with its unreliable narrator asking us to think twice about seeking out the things that terrify, but overall it’s a very good example of J-horror and is certainly the best I’ve seen from Shimizu to date.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson