Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Do you want to meet a ghost? Or rather, do you like your horror with a side of existential crisis? Is garden variety nihilism just too cheerful for your tastes? If the answer to any of these questions was yes, then Japanese horror has gifted you with a dark, unsettling gem that just may be up your alley.
Kairo was one of the most upsetting victims of the influx of American remakes of Japanese horror in the early 2000s. Some of these remakes got things right, or at least kept the spirit of the film intact (Dark Water is the best example of this), and some of them got things so very, very wrong. If you’ve seen the American remake of this film, Pulse, disregard everything you know about it.
Sadako Vs. Kayako
Directed by: Koji Shiraishi
I don’t know why we love to take cultural titans and pit them against each other so much. What is it about characters who are able to dominate their genre so well that makes us want to watch them compete for our attention? From Batman V Superman to Freddy Vs. Jason, and all of the Godzilla Vs Monster-of-the-Day films, this has long been a tradition of film making. This time, it was the chance for some of our favorite Japanese ghost ladies to take the spotlight.
Sadako Vs Kayako is as much of a mess as you’d expect it to be, and you’ll love it all the more for that.
Sadako Vs Kayako begins its story with friends Yuri and Natsumi; after attending a class discussing urban legends, including one involving a cursed video tape, Yuri finds herself roped into helping Natsumi with a VHS transferring project she’s working on. When they go to purchase a VHS player from the store, they find it already has a tape inside. Curious, they decide to give it a watch, and soon wish that they hadn’t.
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.
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.
We Are What We Are
Director: Jim Mickle
When thinking about cannibalism in fiction, most people will immediately draw from the image of Hannibal Lecter and his unique brand of imbuing terror into his presence. Make no mistake: Hannibal is scary, but he represents a very particular kind of cannibal, one that glides with such ease through social convention that he can easily hide in plain sight. There is something to be said, however, for the flip side of the coin: the characters who are truly misfits.
We Are What We Are tries its hand at representing such characters in the Parker family, a cannibalistic family unit that have been outsiders from the very start. Their situation only intensifies once Frank Parker’s wife is found dead from mysterious causes, and he becomes consumed by grief. In his grief he commands his two daughters, Rose and Iris, to take over the religious duties of the family, which were previously their mother’s responsibility. The girls are reluctant, and begin to question everything they’ve been taught up to this point.
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.
The Winter People
By Jennifer McMahon
Grief and isolation and popular recurring themes in horror fiction, for good reason: they bring out the dark sides in human nature. Time and time again, we see what people are capable of doing in the name of grief – and when no prying eyes are watching them. The Winter People takes these themes, with a dose of maternal love, and fosters them into a haunting tale of loss and desperation.
The Winter People follows three concurrent stories: that of Sara Shea, and her life with her husband and daughter in the early 1900s, mostly seen through Sara’s journal entries. These moments are interspliced with the point of view of Ruthie, a young woman who feels directionless in life, until she discovers that her mother has gone missing one morning, and finds Sara’s old journal among her things. There is also Katherine, who is grappling with the loss of both her son and her husband, and wants to resolve the mystery of her husband’s death once and for all.
Director: Robert Eggers
The Witch has been receiving vast amounts of praise leading up to its release, and so it’s difficult to imagine that the film could possibly live up to its reputation. Even Stephen King, considered one of the premiere crafters of horror in our time stated that the film terrified him. It’s a tough act to follow up on. One thing I did know going into this film, however, was this: the less you know when you go to see the film, the better your experience will be. So I did just that, hoping that my expectations would be met.
I didn’t know what to think when going in; I didn’t consider that my expectations would be exceeded entirely.
The Witch deals with a Puritanical family living in the 1600s; they lead a relatively simple life, though one that is isolated due to their expulsion fro their community for differences in worship. While the family struggles, they hope to make ends meet with their crops, and eventually prosper, even in their solitary life. All of this seems to be undone with the sudden disappearance of their infant child, setting off a chain of fear and paranoia that seeks to destroy everything in its path.
Director: Eric England
Many zombie stories begin with a similar premise: our protagonist somehow finds him or herself either in the middle of a zombie-ravaged town, or one that has already been destroyed by them. We’re dropped off in the middle of the commotion, with little understanding of how it progressed into the full-on nightmare we’re seeing in front of us. It’s more exciting this way, certainly, the immediate peril our main character is in often fuels the momentum for the rest of the film.
Contracted takes a very different approach to a zombie film. One that not only examines the beginning of the infection, but follows one of the characters that will ultimately spread it as she succumbs to its effects. It’s a unique and interesting look at the genre, but one that doesn’t always hit the mark exactly the way it could.
Our main character, Samantha, goes out to a party one night, her mind rife with personal issues that are weighing on her. After the party, however, her problems only get worse as she begins to find herself becoming increasingly sick – with an illness she can’t quite identify. As the symptoms begin to escalate out of her control, she struggles to piece together what is happening, and the events that brought her there to begin with.
She Walks In Shadows
Edited by: Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles
The dearth of female characters in Lovecraft’s fictional world is not a secret to anyone who has extensively read his writing. The women he did include in his works are more notable for being so few in number than necessarily for their contribution to the larger scheme of the world. So the idea of taking this void, and filling it with nightmarish and strange tales of the women who undoubtedly would have occupied these stories, was an attractive concept for me. I had been let down by books I’d greatly anticipated before, but I purchased a copy of this book as soon as it became available and hoped for the best.
She Walks in Shadows is a book that seeks to actively fill the void in the Lovecraft meta, not just of women, but of diversity in almost any regard. It is foremost, however, an anthology of fictional works written by women, and featuring women in the lead roles so often given to the male characters by default.