Noroi: The Curse
Posted by Holly
There are few films that use the much-maligned found footage approach in a way that feels fresh, effective, and truly scary. There are even fewer films that I’m willing to give a full five stars to, because they were just that terrifying and enjoyable to watch. Noroi: The Curse is a film that somehow manages to meet both criteria, and is delightfully creepy along the way.
The words “found footage” have, in recent years, become synonymous with “poor quality,” usually drawing to mind shaky camera work, nonstop screaming by amateur actors, and long, drawn-out sequences in which nothing happens whatsoever. In many ways, the reputation is deserved – which is why it’s such a nice surprise when you’re able to find something that bucks the trend and proves why found footage was ever considered scary to begin with.
Noroi begins by informing you of the tragic events surrounding the life of director Masafumi Kobayashi: shortly following work on his most recent documentary, his house burned to the ground, his wife was found dead in the ruins, and the man himself has been missing ever since. We are then presented with the footage from the documentary he had just completed his work for: investigating a string of mysterious deaths, and their connection to a curse based out of a displaced local village. The question remains – was Kobayashi’s fate tied in with this curse as well?
Noroi takes on a method of found footage that I think works to its benefit: a mockumentary. However, unlike other films that have used this successfully (notably Lake Mungo), this one brings the audience a little more deeply into the fold, rather than with academic distance. It’s told from an investigative point of view, a journalist approaching this in the most unbiased way he can, but not without the immediacy of coming face to face with things he did not expect or want to learn. However, those moments are broken up by varying pieces of media – news clips, moments from TV variety shows – which helps the film never feel like it’s slipping into a lull with its narrative.
This film, for its part, asks you to embrace the dark mystery at its core. It is this mystery that drives the story forward, and even in the moments where there isn’t discernible “action,” there are often small answers weaved quietly into the details. Some of these details don’t even become apparent as important until the end of the film, to the point where you’ve almost forgotten about them. Because of this, it cultivates a patient, slow-burn pace that rewards second and third viewings of the film.
Beyond that? It’s genuinely scary. There is eerie yet subtle imagery throughout the whole movie, with the recurring appearance of the looping knots, and the gaping face of the mask. The last thirty minutes or so are incredibly uncomfortable to watch, and yet wonderfully satisfying. Perhaps taken out of context, the final scene of the film might be reminiscent of other films in the genre: your run of the mill Paranormal Activity fare, as it were. However, the context amps up the fright value exponentially, and that final scene earns its spot by unflinchingly showing the consequences of every choice Kobayashi has made from day one.
Interestingly, there’s little to say about how the women in this film are depicted in relation to the men. Which is a good thing. Our ‘hero’, and the lens through which we witness the events of the film, is male, but it doesn’t feel like this film leans on a male perspective, there’s no sexualized violence, and no gender-leaning behavior from the evil entity; it’s not more cruel towards women or men. It’s a story about a demonic entity that creates suffering for all people. Honestly, I shouldn’t have to say that it’s refreshing to see women treated no differently in a film, but sometimes it is.
Overall, this is a film that I would strongly recommend on its own merits before even discussing its place in the found footage genre. It is a wonderful film, period, and one of my favorites to date. So please pick up a copy of this one if you can, and prepare to be sleeping with the lights on that night.
Rating: 5 out of 5. If you venture to watch any found footage films, this one should be a top priority.
Scariness level: NIGHTMARES FOREVER. I pretty much believe the last thirty minutes or so of the film is just pure NO fuel. Also, the way the film is book ended, plus the lack of ending credits, makes the movie feel uncomfortably realistic.
Violence level: There’s some pretty disturbing implications, involving suicide, cannibalism, among other unsavory things, but very little of it is shown on screen. The final scene does include violence toward a child, so be warned.
Bechdel test: Here’s an interesting thing – this maybe just barely squeaks by (Marika asking her female neighbor if she heard banging noises during the night, or Kana and her mother over dinner). And I’m not sure if they’re enough to give this a pass. But this is still a great film.
Mako Mori test: This one is possibly even more tricky to answer. Technically, the whole story is told from Kobayashi’s point of view, making everything fall into his storyline. Marika is inextricably part of his storyline once she has been touched by the Kagutaba curse, but she doesn’t come into it to help him. Her only real motivation is her own survival.