Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Missed Call 2; Not Worth Answering

It may be fading now, but Asian horror films, predominantly Japanese horror films, have had a pretty good representation on American shores of late. Prior to the turn of the century, American audiences usually thought of Godzilla-style rubber monsters when thinking of Japanese horror cinema, and most never even thought of Chinese or Korean cinema at all. That all changed in 1998, when word started to get back to adventurous horror fans of what was being touted as a completely original and utterly frightening film from Japan called Ringu. In 2002 the sub-genre burst into the mainstream consciousness when Ringu got a first class Hollywood remake courtesy of director Gore Verbinski. Say what you will about remakes in general, and I don't mean any disrespect to the original, but the American remake was a perfect translation, a great way to take the horror sensibilities from Japan and inject them into American cinema. It was familiar enough to not be offputting, but different enough to scare the bejesus out of unsuspecting audiences used to the current lackluster Hollywood offerings. The success of The Ring meant that more would be coming, and we soon got American remakes of top Asian horror films such as Ju On(AKA the Grudge) and Dark Water. At the same time, for those purists interested in originals only, and those simply looking for more scares, the home video market was bursting with Asian imports.

The halfassed remakes that made it to theatres, the knock off films that followed the popularity of The Ring, and the overwhelming similarities between many Asian horror films, all led to the decline of the Asian horror boom. But waning popularity in America does not mean the market is entirely gone, and horror films remain a prominent export from eastern shores. One of those films testifying to the continuing J-Horror trend is One Missed Call 2, the sequel to the 2003 film from wildly divisive director Miike Takashi. And really, your enjoyment of this film is going to depend on your tolerance for logic-defying bullshit twist endings and halfassed philosophizing.

The problem with the original One Missed Call was that it came to the game a bit late. By the time it was released there had already been 5 years of horror films dealing with haunted technology and creepy long haired women. It was Miike's most generic and standard film, but he still managed to inject it with flashes of his own gonzo sensibilities(there's a scene of a ghostly murder captured live in a television studio that had my jaw in my lap). Made without Miike's involvement, One Missed Call 2 is no less well made, but has virtually no trace of the style which attempted to make the original stand out.

Most of the problem in this film comes from what plagued the original; a sense of 'been there, done that', with every stereotype from Asian horror cinema making an appearance, like a J-Horror best-of. There's the pale woman with long hair covering most of her face, slithering jerkily out of a well(the Ring) or sliding headfirst after her victim down a flight of stairs(Ju On), the creepy pale child(Ring, Ju On, Dark Water, Every Japanese Horror Movie Since 1998), and a general fear of technology that seems specific to Asia. Not that other countries don't have their own fears of technology, but it seems to manifest itself in a very specific way in Japanese cinema. In Buddhism, hate, anger, sadness and negativity aren't just emotions, they are physical ailments that can be passed on like a virus(think of Princess Mononoke where the hero has an ever growing wound from the mere touch of an angry boar-god), and as technology increases humanity's networking capabilities, it also increases our susceptibility to these curses. It's how we got the haunted video tape in Ringu, the haunted Internet in the excellent(and underseen) Pulse, and here the haunted cell phone in One Missed Call.

The basic premise is that you get a phone call, which on your caller ID is listed as you, three days in the future. On this call you hear your own death, and three days later you die. More so than Ringu, this setup has a built in fatalism, a sense of hopelessness against your own doom, that the first one was wise enough to capitalize on. The sequel, however, changes the rules a bit, and it no longer seems as dangerous to get that call, with it's creepy music-box ringtone. The virus, to continue a metaphor, has mutated, which explains how it's continued on from the first movie. The phone call no longer kills only it's intended victim, but anyone who happens to answer/hear the message, and getting the call no longer means certain death. A disregard for it's own internal logic is another mark against this film.

Without this inevitability, the film loses most of the tension inherent in the series, and must depend on carefully crafted scare scenes to spook the audience. And it does have those. Unfortunately the film never can escape the fact that everything we're seeing has been done before, many many times. One Missed Call 2 is slicker, more appealingly made than most of this sort of stuff out there, but it still falls short of the films it apes. However, enough time has passed between this film and it's predecessors that these stereotypes gave me a slight shiver of nostalgic horror, and they unfold in a way that I can admire and enjoy without actually being moved by them. All of this is ruined, however, by a twist ending that confused and angered me to such a degree that it almost rivals the ending to Mindhunters in sheer frustration(see my review of THAT film by clicking the title). I won't reveal it all here, for those of you interested in watching this series, but it will suffice to say that I no longer know who lives and who dies, who the killer is, or even if there was a killer. This may all lead up to the third movie(already released), but my suspicion is that the filmmakers thought they were totally blowing the audiences minds, not just confusing them into apathy.

I tried for awhile to think of what to rate this film, and whether or not to tell people I liked it, because to say I hated it would be untrue, nor was I bored by it; the film kept me interested once it got going. But then, I wouldn't say I liked it either, or that I'm neutral about it, because I have some very strong opinions about it. It's an odd film that straddles all of those categories. In the end, though, I honestly can't recommend it to anyone. Hardcore Asian horror fans may find some gems in there, but they'll also most likely be bored by all too familiar scenery. Beginners might enjoy it, but I'd really suggest they look elsewhere(perhaps to the predecessors I mentioned above) for their introduction to this subgenre.

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