Hallow-vent - Day 16: Noroi: The Curse

photo of family with eyes blacked out

We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 16 of Hallow-vent is Noroi: The Curse ...

Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.

It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia. 

This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror. 

While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing. 

Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked. 

This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.

Found footage and, exclusively, documentary-style horror has been done and done, and to a point somewhat exhausted. Still, sometimes we get to experience something new or interesting; a possible bright spot in a now oversaturated subgenre. Today, we look at something that, with an incredibly low budget, pulls off this shining moment that is so rare in this type of film. Today we look at Koji Shiraishi’s 2005 Japanese film, Noroi: The Curse.

This film follows filmmaker and paranormal researcher Masafumi Kobayashi, as he unravels a strange, twisting mystery that combines classic horror ideas like possession and haunting with older mythos from Japanese folklore. The movie opens by telling the audience that Kobayashi has gone missing, and while his house burned and his wife died in the blaze, Kobayashi’s body was never discovered. Then, we are launched into the film itself, which, we are told, is the footage and film that Kobayashi was working on before the disappearance (very much like the original Blair Witch Project).

Kobayashi is seen investigating a woman named Junko Ishi, who has received constant complaints from her neighbors who keep hearing children crying. Upon investigation, it is discovered that she only has one child, a boy of about 6, and when she disappears after some erratic behavior, her apartment appears disheveled and there are dead pigeons just outside.

Next, we see footage from a television show where a young girl named Kana Yano presents evidence that she has psychic powers. Quickly after the television appearance, Yano is kidnapped. Before this happens, Kobayashi discovers that a strange, somewhat unbalanced man named Mitsuo Hori had visited the girl. He also has psychic powers, and will become a strange yet important character through the rest of the film.

While investigating these things, Kobayashi hears about another strange incident that occurred at a local shrine. Marika Matsumoto, an up-and-coming actress, was filming at the site, but afterward she discovers that strange coiled ropes of yarn are in her home. Kobayashi sits up surveillance with her permission, and it is discovered that Marika has been doing this in her sleep, without her knowledge. When suicides and strange deaths begin to occur to all the people tangentially connected with this story, Kobayashi sets along a path of discovery that eventually leads to his wife’s death, and his disappearance.

I don’t want to reveal more, because the ending comes together quite well, and when the connection is revealed between all of these seemingly unconnected events, we are treated to something special. The scope of this film far outpaces its respective genre, making this a borderline epic in documentary-style horror.

The film is very low budget, as I said before, but for what they need, this is a non-issue. The filming isn’t beautiful because it doesn’t need to be. All of the performers are believable in their respective roles, because they are perceived as everyday people. The only strange choice is the insanely eccentric portrayal of Hori, but even that makes sense in the context of the film as a whole.

This is really one that deserves a watch, if you can find a copy anywhere. It is easily one of the best documentary-style horror films I have seen, and I would place it just below the original Blair Witch Project in terms of its success and the strangely eerie scenes to which we are treated.

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

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