In 1998 Hideo Nakata set the world on edge with a cursed VHS tape. Ringu and its impact was serious, putting Asian shocks firmly into the spotlight, influencing an indefinite amount of ghostly narratives and inevitably causing a decade long rash of imitations and remakes. Of course very few film makers get close to the innovation and reach that Nakata initially achieved so it’s no wonder quite a few horror fans out there are lamenting his lack of clout since, save for his original Dark Water, Ringu 2 and taking the helm directing the Western sequel to The Ring remake. Ultimately though, none of those could be described as fresh in the wake of Ringu, which shaped the very genre we know as J-Horror.
With The Complex Nakata goes through the majority of stale beats from almost every J-Horror (and also K-Horror for that matter) while seemingly directing on auto-pilot. The film follows Asuka (Atsuko Maeda), a young nursing student who moves into an old apartment complex with her family. After hearing eerie noises coming from the apartment next door, Asuka discovers that her still-occupying neighbour died from starvation. Unsettled after discovering claw marks on the wall shared with her room, Asuka becomes further disturbed when the noises continue despite the old man’s death. Investigation not only brings about a confrontation with the spirits of her building, but also the consequences and knowledge that the complex has had many mysterious deaths over the years. And so ensues the overly tried and tested formula; the domestic set up, which in this instance has its scenes filled with cardboard cut-outs from a family friendly advertisement. Then the inevitable freaky noises and the exploring of the possibly vacated apartment next door, these are so predictable that they are stripped of any actual tension or atmosphere, barely even qualifying The Complex for its genre label. While one understands a need for varying degrees of fright and intensity in films, here flaying its horror elements down to their very bones and therefore of anything that could be considered frightening or a surprise simply renders a ghost story useless and worse still extremely boring.
Probably the only saving grace of this film is that it’s not found footage, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting as it is still littered with dull pauses, incredibly wooden acting and with only a sparse couple of volume-ramping jump scares to react to. Needless to say there is nothing entertaining let alone memorable to be found here. The languid pacing and efforts in general make for a very hollow watch, while hysteria or scepticism are often the go to in these sorts of domestic ghost stories the flat execution makes for a patience bashing slog, so even though the all too familiar set pieces come thick they certainly do not come fast. With some linear play The Complex almost threatens to become briefly interesting in its final stretch only to retreat back into its below average corner and then bow out with some half-hearted instances that wind up unintentionally funny. A prologue of the events leading up to the story (which I managed to forget as it was being so vaguely told) in The Complex is currently airing as a 12 part series in its native Japan and I care not to even hazard a guess at how tedious that must be to follow.
As a result of his latest it’s almost embarrassing to see the grand marshal of J-Horror retreading tropes that were already run into the ground several years ago. Even fans of paranormal-lite films must have moved on somewhat from cloudy contact lenses, scowling kiddy spectres and the lazy myths they all predictably meander around in. Frankly I had mentally checked out, even before the shot of a playground swing moving of its own accord.