JAPAN 2009 Directed by: Takashi Shimizu Written by: Daisuke Hosaka Produced by: Dai Miyazaki, Satoru Ogura, Masayuki Tanishima Cast: Yuya Yagira, Ai Maeda, Suzuki Matsuo, Ryo Katsuji, Shoichiro Masumoto, Misako Renbutsu, Erina Mizuno
THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D isn’t exactly known for its great 3D visuals but rather for being ignored by most audiences so far (its very limited release seems to be a chicken-or-egg question). How come, you might wonder, as SHOCK LABYRINTH is helmed by the man himself, JU-ON’s and THE GRUDGE’s Takashi Shimizu.
A group of teenagers is surprised and shocked when a long-lost friend suddenly returns after more than a decade. But very soon she falls ill and they have to take her to a hospital that turns out to be a trap, a haunted house that is a shock labyrinth. A cat and mouse game begins triggering the teenager’s memories of their childhood friendship and the things that happened in the past.
I must admit that I have never been an admirer of Shimizu’s work as I believe that what he has done others have done long before him, and mostly better. For pure shocks Shimizu has never matched Hideo Nakata’s films, for depth and IQ never even come close to Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Maybe Shimizu and the way he approaches what is commonly known as J-Horror are part of the problem and the reason the once popular export has become largely extinct.
In the late 90’s J-Horror became famous mostly for its relentless shock and awe, combined with a visual language western audiences found fresh and exotic as well as initially some very good ideas as far as storytelling goes. These movies were really scary, a brilliant example of psychological and not physical horror that most of their western counterparts resorted to. But very soon epigones and imitators too over and started to cannibalize the genre by exploiting its motifs and repeating the same formula over and over, with substance and quality of ideas decreasing until there was little more left than a bunch of scenes that were supposed to make your adrenaline rush. They failed to do so after a while.
What made J-Horror interesting, different and effective in the beginning very soon became a routine, a formulaic way of filmmaking, and with no new stories in sight and the same old shocks wearing off there was simply no reason to watch J-Horror anymore, let alone that more and more original J-Horror movies were remade by Hollywood eroding the unique position of horror made in Japan further. J-Horror had sold out, and most kids watching the American remakes wouldn’t have even noticed that these films were not genuine American horror movies. For the mass audience, Hollywood had absorbed J-Horror completely.
Without new ideas J-Horror also lost on the festival circuit as especially horror movie buffs were quickly getting used to the same old tricks. Girls with long black hair anyone? The decline was inevitable and I was not surprised that Kurosawa for instance has left the genre (even he never actually was part of the J-Horror wave).
THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D illustrates why J-Horror is flatlining. It’s a tragic example of Murphy’s law. It starts with a truly idiotic idea: who on earth would make a movie inspired by the Labyrinth of Horrors attraction at Fuji-Q High Land amusement park? What “idea” is that in the first place? How do you pitch something like this to a film studio? How do you sell it to distributors and audiences? Why in god’s name did Fortissimo films pick up the rights for this?
So THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D starts out with no idea at all. Then a ridiculous script comes into play, untalented teenage actors, a rushed production and a low budget. Add to that a direction that has no signature at all, editing that is less than impressive, and truly horrible music. Plus a location that is anything but a labyrinth.
If the aforementioned girls with long hair, if twisting heads, blackened eyes, people vanishing in the dark, X-ray like visuals or stuffed white rabbits make you scream then THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D is for you. But then you’re also probably 10 years old, have an evil older sister and have not been exposed to any other horror than the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Can’t blame you.
THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D is a grave disappointment, its shabby, shoddy and so unbearably talkative you wish you could kill the actors with your own hands. I take great comfort in the thought that this movie was made to rip us off and not to inject new life into the genre. So there’s still a possibility someone will bring J-Horror back from the dead.
But don’t expect it’s SHOCK LABYRINTH. Beware. Abandon hope all ye who enter THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D.
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