The Complex Review


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.

 (Jan 2014)


Paranormal Activity 4 Review


Paranormal Activity 4 is bland and limited, often feeling more like an exercise in ‘horror marketing how-to’ than a narrative film. As a franchise sold on a fun and jumpy night out it succeeds to a large and broad set but for a film which owes masses to a genre it borrows so heavily from it frustratingly offers next to nothing back by way of progression or interest.

The jumbled premise is set five years after the second film after the disappearance of siblings Katie and Hunter; when a woman and a mysterious child move into a suburban neighbourhood the family next door begin to witness strange and gradually frightening events. I am not entirely sure if only seeing the first Paranormal Activity much affected the frankly flat experience I had watching the fourth entry in what is the most lucrative horror franchise this side of Saw. But my lack of investment in the through franchise arcs were overwhelmed by my lack of reaction to the stand alone events and the one-dimensional format.

The film’s non-committal tone assures that explanations are minimal and characters are dispensable; serving only to drive brief events, essentially being lower down on the priority list than Apple products. The acting is competent, thankfully the teen and child protagonists only annoy as much as they are supposed to being young and all, but overall the performances hang in limbo like most aspects of the film; neither here or there in making an impression but merely functional. As for flare the only seeming attempts are so coupled with product placement that any atmosphere is quickly marred by the consistent assembly line feel. Similarly shoving an eerie child into scenes that simply do not hold any of the skill or intensity  of  the greats such as ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Omen’ is painfully generic in this decade of copy-and-paste horror, saying that if you are that shaken by creepy kids who stare a lot and mumble to unseen companions then you’ll be likely to be pleased. The churned-out feel is further enforced by the clear rush job most noticeable in the unsure editing. Certain scenes feel half finished, if this is a push for ambiguity it does not work and adds to the shrug-inducing, confused by itself results.

It’s a safe bet that the crew behind Paranormal Activity, who initially took several cues from (like every found footage film since) The Blair Witch Project in regards to it’s rigid sticking to the first instalment’s formula. Less we forget (and many have) Blair Witch had a doomed sequel that strayed from its path in attempting something not found footage and gratingly meta that subsequently failed, killing off any potential for a franchise. This lot seem to have regarded Blair Witch as a practice run rather than a blue-print for their annual approach.

Paranormal Activity 4 is a dull and looping 90 minutes, if you’re a fan of the series or susceptible to scares that are essentially blurred shadows in backgrounds and cranking sound effects to 11 after some meandering quiet time (otherwise known as lazy scares) then you’ll likely get some fleeting satisfaction but otherwise a wholly forgettable and fidget in one’s seat experience that near crushes itself with it’s own repetitive formula and vagueness. If Paranormal Activity fan’s patience weren’t already waning by this entry then I would imagine that come the fifth they will be decidedly looking elsewhere for their jump scares.

(Nov 2012)