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Released: 2017
Directed by: F. Javier GutiƩrrez

The Ring franchise has been lying dormant for some time in the US market, likely discouraged by the poor performance of The Ring Two upon its release over a decade prior. After the revival of the film series in Japan, with the recent release of Sadako Vs Kayako, a third film in the American series was rescued from development hell and unleashed onto the world – but was it worth the effort?

Rings tells the story of Julia, a teenage girl whose relationship with her boyfriend Holt begins to crumble once he moves away to college. After a cryptic comment about doing an extra credit assignment for his professor, he disappears and refuses to answer her calls for several days. After receiving an unnerving message from a stranger regarding Holt, Julia travels to his school find him, and in doing so, uncovers much more than she expected.

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Fatal Frame

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Released: 2014
Directed by: Mari Asato

“Have you heard of a curse that affects only girls?”

With this opening line, Fatal Frame draws us into its mythos almost immediately. A dark, brooding boarding school for girls sets the stage. And from there on, the mysteries only intensify.

The story begins with Aya, who is attending an all girls high school, and is quickly approaching graduation. Aya is charming and talented, so much so that many of her classmates begin to fall a little bit in love with her. When Aya shuts herself in her room and doesn’t emerge for weeks, rumors begin to spread about what has become of her. The obsession grows so intense that a ritual forms; girls bring her photograph to a certain part of the school and kiss it at midnight. However, an apparition resembling Aya begins to torment these girls, and after a short time they begin to turn up dead.

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The Forest

The Forestthe-forest
Released: 2016
Directed by: Jason Zada

The Aokigahara forest in Japan is quite infamous, and has long been surrounded by an air of mystery. The name itself means “sea of trees”, but it is colloquially known as the “Suicide Forest”. Upon entering, the density of the forest cuts off almost all outside sound, creating a sense of isolation. There are signs strategically placed at the entrance, urging visitors to seek help rather than take their own lives. It is estimated that an average of 30 successful suicides take place there annually, and more attempted. It is a place of deep sadness and cultural significance to many.

Of course, Hollywood had to try and find a way to make it about white Americans.

There is a natural fascination with foreign locations and curiosities, and Aokigahara certainly does have a unique history. It’s understandable that there’s a draw to this location, and a desire to tell stories about it. But using this location as an “exotic” backdrop for a rather mundane story does not do it justice. This is a location that could be deeply frightening and unsettling given the respect and attention it deserves in a horror film, but this film ultimately did not come close.

The Forest begins with Sara, a woman who is constantly bailing out her perpetually troubled twin sister, Jess, getting a sense that something is amiss with said sister. When she discovers that Jess is missing and was last seen going into Aokigahara, Sara immediately flies to Japan on a mission to save her sister’s life. However, once she arrives and begins her search, it becomes apparent that it may not just be Jess’s life that is in danger.

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The Uninvited

The Uninvitedtheuninvited
Released: 2009
Director: The Guard Brothers

The dreaded remake: the word alone makes most of us cringe. Often with good reason, as there have been a number of beloved horror classics that have been ripped apart in the process of trying to re-purpose them for a different audience. A film like A Tale of Two Sisters is rightfully one of the films lauded as a classic of the genre, and so the idea of an attempted remake of this gave me pause – would they be able to retain any of the qualities that set a film like that apart to begin with, or would it simply blend into being another tale of a generic horror remake?

The Uninvited seems to attempt to take a third option, which is to use the concept of the original film as a launching pad to create something different from the source material. Whether or not you find it successful in that attempt will depend on how much leeway you’re willing to extend to it, and how able you are to separate the concept from its origin.

The Uninvited focuses on Anna, a teenage girl who is finally being released from a psychiatric institution, following a suicide attempt mitigated by her mother’s untimely death in an accidental fire. Upon returning home, she is happy to reunite with her sister, and remains cordial with her father, but has an icy relationship with her father’s fiance, Rachel. While Rachel seems eager to mend their relationship at first, it soon becomes clear that there is something strange about her mysterious past. Between this and the increasingly strange and terrifying events surrounding Anna, she begins to suspect that not all is as it seems.

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Suicide Club

Suicide ClubSuicide_Circle
Released: 2001
Director: Sion Sono

On a quiet spring day, a large group of school girls approach the edge of the platform in a train station. These girls, 54 of them to be exact, then grasp hands before throwing themselves in front of the oncoming train. This is how we are introduced to the world Suicide Club presents, and make no mistake: it only gets darker from there.

When the name Sion Sono is mentioned, there is one film that immediately springs to most people’s minds. While he has directed a number of chilling and intriguing horror tales, Suicide Club is by far the one he seems to be the most well-known for. Suicide Club has been hailed as a classic of Japanese horror in the years since its release, and it’s hard to argue against the reasoning for this – it’s visceral, violent, but not without a haunting philosophy at its core.

Suicide Club begins with the aforementioned mass suicide, but this is just one event of many. Many other instances of suicide happen at around the same time, and the coinciding tragedies cause a panic of people presuming there is a mass suicide pact. Three detectives begin to investigate the case, tying together the acts of suicide with one very disconcerting detail: a briefcase that seems to be left behind at multiple scenes, each one containing a roll of human skin. Together, they begin to dig further into the origin of the skin, and the club itself, finding themselves getting pulled into a much darker and more murky case than they could imagine.

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Released: 2012
Director: Richard Bates Jr.

Stories about outsiders and loners are popular, often because there’s something deep down that we can relate to in the characters represented. In horror, it often plays into our fears of rejection and social ostracization. In some cases, we also are allowed to feel their anger vicariously through them, and even cheer them on as they finally give in to their madness; Carrie White is one of the most famous examples of this.

Excision is a film that presents a typical loner narrative, but with an uncomfortable closeness to the madness that it is depicting – one that an audience might fear relating too deeply with in the end.

Pauline is a senior in high school, with few friends, poor grades, and a strained relationship with both of her parents. What she does have are aspirations to one day become a surgeon, and a loving connection to her seriously ill younger sister. As the story follows Pauline, she continues to alienate people, pushing her towards taking even more extreme actions to reach out for the help and acceptance she craves – but people are unaware just how far she is willing to go to gain their approval.

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Inner Demons

Inner Demonsinnerdemons
Released: 2014
Director: Seth Grossman

Are you looking for something different in your movie watching experience – such as the glorification of Nice Guy syndrome, to the point where the line between “I’m just doing what’s best for you” and outright stalking is uncomfortably thin? Where the exploitation of a teenage girl’s mental anguish is a secondary plot to the way our male hero feels about her mental condition? Then do I have a treat for you.

For your enjoyment, I present Male Privilege: The Motion Picture.

Now I might sound like I’m being facetious in the previous statements, but I’m being honest: it’s really only a mild glossing over of the events in this film. I don’t think I can overstate how awful this story’s attitude is towards women, its romanticization of stalking, and its lack of respect towards consent. I sincerely felt dirty after watching it; it’s that bad.

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Noriko’s Dinner Table

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Released: 2006
Director: Sion Sono

Much has been said about Sion Sono’s masterful film Suicide Club and its biting social commentary on Japanese society. Less, however, has been said of its quiet follow-up film, Noriko’s Dinner Table. This is a shame – while it lacks the violent and shocking nature of the first film, its social critique may be perhaps even more severe and jarring than that of Suicide Club.

The story follows Noriko, an average girl who feels bored with her small town life, and craves the adventure and excitement of the city. She dreams of moving to Tokyo after finishing high school, but her father is strictly against this, alienating Noriko further and pushing her towards the company she finds on a mysterious website. Having found companionship with a girl who goes only by Ueno Station 54, Noriko decides to run away from home to join her. However, when she reaches her destination, her friend is not what she seems, and Noriko is brought into a world she did not expect.

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Released: 2013
Director: Mike Flanagan

Mirrors have a long history of superstition and lore surrounding them – some cultures believe in their ability to trap souls, and others believe they can be a gateway into another realm when used correctly. On a smaller scale, I believe most of us have had at least one encounter with a mirror game as children; Bloody Mary was one of the most common ones in my memory. All things considered, it’s no surprise that the horror genre has latched onto the mirror as a tool for conveying terror and supernatural activity, to the point where it’s almost shocking when a film does not make use of a mirror gag.

Oculus takes the next logical step in this fixation, and makes the mirror itself the central focus of the horror in the story. Rather than allowing the mirror to take a secondary position as a gateway, or a form of communication, it makes the mirror a vessel of evil in and of itself. In doing so, it attempts to play on the characters’ and audience’s sense of truth, perception, and reality – and twist them all into unrecognizable shadows of themselves.

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The Eye 2

The Eye 2the eye 2
Released: 2004
Director: The Pang Brothers

Pregnancy can be a terrifying concept. When I was younger, I envisioned it as something living just under your skin, that knows things, and is biding its time until it can burst out of you in an Alien-esque shower of blood and viscera. I’ve since (mostly) outgrown this, but well done horror involving pregnancy can still freak me the hell out.

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