J-horror pioneer, Hideo Nakata, is a director who for me personally has a lot to live up to; given that he is one of the few horror directors who has actually managed to scare the living hell out of me with his seminal 1998 project, Ringu. When Ringu first came along, before all the wishy-washy Hollywood remakes, and long before J-horror had began to literally eat itself from the inside out with an overuse of once effective genre tropes and clichéd watered down attempts to recapture the glory days, the film represented something new, fresh and terrifying, and yes it frightened the life out of me. As a horror fan, as many horror fans, I am always looking for that next thrill which rarely comes, and as much as I love the genre (obviously) there have been very few moments that have genuinely affected me; therefore Nakata has a lot to answer for in my book. Of course it is wrong of me because J-horror is now a overestablished sub genre, with rarely very little new to offer as it continues to burn itself out, even Nakata has put out far from perfect films; after doing Dark Water (which was great, just not AS great as Ringu), he went on to work on his own Hollywood remake Ring 2, which in my opinion stunk like a ripe dog turd and bore no relation to the original sequel. So I have to ask myself should I really have been expecting more from this latest release The Complex?
In all fairness The Complex is not a completely awful film, and much of my disappointment is of my own making because I just expected too much ( I don’t know what, but with hindsight I can see that I did). I even went out and actually bought this release blind, without reading any reviews beforehand, and this is something I rarely do. The story focuses on Asuka who moves to a strange apartment complex with her family, (mother, father and younger brother) and not long after moving in strange stuff starts to happen, some predictable, some not. Unexplained noises come from a neighbouring apartment, including an early morning alarm which continues to ring each day, a neighbour dies of malnutrition, Asuka’s parents indulge in the same breakfast table dinner conversations every morning, and there is a weird young boy lurking around the complex playground who does not seem to have any friends. Asuka also befriends Sasahara, a cleaner with a morbid line of work who cleans up apartments when people have died in them, as well as Asuka, he carries his own dark past, and as things get out of control it is left to the two of them to try to get to the bottom of the Complex and its mysterious secrets. In his defence Nakata has tried to inject something new into the well used J-horror paradigm, but ultimately it falls flat and reverts to type, which was perhaps the most frustrating thing over all. On the positive side the plot really kept me guessing for most of the duration, it was intriguing, engaging, and on the whole interesting, however the ending left me feeling far from satisfied and hankering back to the days when J-horror was great.
One of the biggest problems with The Complex was the plot, which while derivative of Nakata’s earlier works on some level, the attempt to add something new into the mix ultimately results in a collection of half-baked ideas, gaping plot holes and inexplicable character motivation. Part of Ringu’s excellence is the film’s ability to capture mood, suspense and atmosphere, through slow and subtle storytelling. It seems like one of the main problems of The Complex is that it has taken too far a departure from this tried and tested method and instead the twisty, turny plot line erodes some of the tension that could perhaps have been developed. I also felt frustrated that some of the plot lines, for example one involving an exorcist, are picked up just to be dropped without reason, thus leaving the overall storyline patchy and underdeveloped.When you consider Jun’ya Katô was involved with writing the script ( the writer responsible for J-splatter cyberpunk nuttiness Meatball Machine) it all suddenly begins to make sense.
For the cast, well they play their parts as well as they can, within this mishmash storyboard. J-Idol/ J-pop star Atsuko Maeda does a great job as Asuka; looking sufficiently haunted throughout, however some of her over the top wailing toward the end comes off like a bad Japanese porn overdub and ruins the mood. On the whole though she does well within the remit she is given, and when you consider she does not have much in the way of acting experience (being just five years into this strand of her career, with more Tv drama work than features in her resume), a lot can be forgiven. Hiroki Narimiya as the male lead Sasahara , who actually looks like a J-pop star (but isn’t as far as I can fathom, although he does get a lot of modelling work ) again is adequate, his character’s motivation is slightly murky and halfbaked and he does little to help flesh out the missing parts through skill. I cannot lay the blame completely on Hiroki’ s shoulders given he is not provided with a lot to work with. In the case of both of these main characters large sections of the plot change tact, leaving you to wonder, why did they do this? Why didn’t they notice that? Why didn’t so and so remember this?- if you have, or do, watch this you will notice what I mean. For the limited wider cast, well they are all just there, but no one really stands out.
One thing that does stand out is the cinematography on this feature, which is beautiful in parts. Again Nakata manages to bring the fantastical and eery dread of a supernatural tale into a contemporary, mundane, suburban landscape with ease. Making good use of lighting, and murky landings, stairwells, and the fact that most of these modern buildings have walls as thin as rice paper, Nakata is able to introduce fear factors into the most normal of settings. For that I am going to have to give him credit, the skills are obviously still there. Less can be said about the skill involved for some of the ropey CGI effects which are rolled out toward the end, these for me totally ruined any mood, including the fact that something ludicrous was happening in the live action at the time. The film which could have been, and in fact is to a limited extent, fully tinged with a brilliant air of sadness and tragedy, becomes completely undermined by the choice of climax, which actually made me laugh (and I am assuming this wasn’t the effect Nakata was going for?).
The Complex, sadly, cannot be considered a complete return for once J-horror master Hideo Nakata, but despite all this, it was still a lot more enjoyable than the bulk of recent Western mainstream horror. Interesting, to a point, yet lacking overall, I felt unsatisfied with the way things panned out toward the end, and the plot structure left a lot to be desired in terms of consistency. The film did keep me engaged for the bulk of it’s running time, however, it is well made, and beautiful to watch in parts, which makes it all the more of a shame that it failed (for me anyway) to hit the right notes. I do think it is worth mentioning there has been a 12 part ‘prologue’ TV series released alongside this film (also directed by Nakata, and using the same writing team) which could perhaps fill in some of the gaps that are left, and it may very well be that the two need to be viewed as companion pieces to garner a more satisfying experience. This said I find it unusual that you would have to watch an entire series to get enjoyment out of a film and this to me just stinks of a marketing ploy to extract more profit. As a standalone piece The Complex lacks the foundation to make it brilliant, but still, it is a move back in the right direction for Hideo Nakata after hitting an all time low with that terrible Ring 2 remake.