I hated Ju-On, and I hated the remake, The Grudge. Both were directed by Takashi Shimizu, who has made a cottage industry of retelling the same story about a ghostly curse in various sequels and direct to TV films. I hated Ju-On because I felt like I wasn’t needed – the film has utterly no plot at all, and is just a succession of scenes loosely connected. It just unfolds without even requiring you to pay the least bit of attention. Ju-On was all atmosphere, and nothing else.
Marebito is the newest (to America) film from Shimizu, shotin about 8 days before he started work on the American Grudge. It really feels like a film made in 8 days, possibly without any sort of script.
It opens with a cameraman who has captured a suicide on tape. The cameraman is, for reasons that must remain mysterious to us due to inept storytelling, convinced that the man was killing himself because of something he saw. He had experienced such terror that he had to die. The cameraman decides he wants to see this terror as well, which just seems like incredibly poor judgement.
The cameraman goes to the subway, where he saw the murder, and begins poking around and soon finds an entire underground world, apparently about 30 feet beneath the main machinery that runs the Tokyo subway trains. On the way he meets the suicide, who doesn’t know he killed himself, and who acts like a half-assed Virgil to his equally half-assed Dante. Then the cameraman finds a naked girl, chained in a small cave. He, of course, takes her home.
It turns out that she drinks blood and that by this point the whole idea of seeing true terror has just fallen by the wayside. Now Shimizu tries to introduce the idea that the cameraman is just nuts, but who cares anymore? The film is almost dialogue-free, with the cameraman philosophizing throughout via whispered, Dune-like voiceovers that grate.
Eventually there are some killings, but the effects are weak. Shimizu manages to get a couple of very nice shots into the film, but too much of it is shot through a DV camera. There’s almost no atmosphere in this film – after leaving Ju-On I had to walk down a darkened stairwell, and the thought of that ghost popping up definitely entered my mind. I watched Marebito on a DVD screener in my darkened living room in the middle of the night and found that I slept like a baby – almost during the film, which drags itself to 90 minutes.
Actually, Marebito feels like it’s twice as long as it should be. It feels like an episode of a horror anthology show, stuffed to make it feature length. Scenes kind of stretch on beyond all understanding, padding things out to feature length. The made for TV aspect is reinforced by the sub-Sci Fi Channel look of the underground world.
In the end, Marebito contains a couple of good ideas smashed together at high speed until they’re unrecognizable. Maybe with a few more days, or a coherent story, this could have been something.