That this movie is called The Shock Labyrinth and a product of a Japanese mind, immediately conjures images of something nefarious a Japanese woman has to endure once she comes of age. I’ve mentioned previous of my love for foreign horror movies, an opinion that I’ve often attributed to the fact foreign directors are experts in the art of horror since they experience it on a daily basis. European nations are inundated with Orwellian bureaucracy and have a currency that looks like a rejected first draft for monopoly money, and not even God dares to guess what sexualized Lovecraftian monstrosities lie in wait in the Far East. With that in mind I was looking forward Shock Labyrinth but was disappointed to find it was as much fun as spending an evening with Bobby Trendy.
Pictured: Someone who isn't as shocking as they would like to think they are.
The plot is suitably bizarre, a revenge supernatural mystery with a time travel twist (or Japanese family movie to give it the correct name.) It revolves around five children who break into a theme park dark attraction named The Shock Labyrinth, only for the experience they expect to frighten them in the “ghoulishly fun” way to turn out to be frightening in the being picked up in a gay bar by Jeffrey Dahmer kind of way. This premise alone should have been good enough to drive the movie, it is something we can easily identify with because as children we all suspected there was always something dark and sinister to seemingly innocent and mundane things; a belief that I still hold about Tony Danza. However the film focuses on the group of friends ten years later who fall victim to the most inconvenient of plot devices, being forced to relive your traumatic past as though you are visiting a therapist, when their missing friend reappears.
The story should have employed the Michael Moore route of focusing entirely on one side of the story instead of the befuddling mess that it is, endless repeating the same plot points like an author with the memory of a goldfish. During the movie the characters see something that frightens them, such as a sinister looking door knob and it brings all their suppressed memories ‘rushing back’; which in reality means we have to watch the same fucking clips over and fucking over like we are in the same room as a stuttering projector.
See The Shock Labyrinth is good at recycling; the writer has two primary scare tactics that he decided to use over and over. Either the group will encounter Yuki’s ‘ghost’ wandering around doing sod all as is typical of a Yurei, or they will encounter her child counterpart’s rabbit bag floating through the hospital seemingly sentient. Both could be creepy had they been used sparingly, but they eventually boarder on the ridiculous, especially the latter which becomes as attention seeking as the campest of the camp. It is only in the last fifteen minutes that it actually begins to transform into a psychological horror. However the writer obviously referred to the Keiichiro Toyama rule book too many times, as suddenly demonic mannequins chase lone survivor Ken (Yuya Yagira) through the hospital which now represents an Ethiopian hospital. It feels as though any creepy imagery the writers could dream up was thrown in, and I was half expecting Bleach’s Mayuri Kurotsuchi to make an impromptu appearance. The last section fits into the movie’s atmosphere the same way that Casey Anthony belongs to the human race; as in not at all.
Speaking of atmosphere, this is something that the movie does extremely well. The style of directing places the movie in an eerie dreamlike state leaving you unsure as to what is real or not. There’s an underlying and unsettling feeling to the movie, as though there is constantly something disturbing lying in wait, and the creepy audio used throughout only lends to this idea. Though it is in the aesthetics were the film’s strengths lie, the hospital is depicted as a cold place with steel blue corridors and chartreuse boiler rooms. Often Takashi will contrast these soulless environments with objects such as the eye catching electric crimson carpet that runs through the corridors, which stand out much like how Shia LaBoeuf stands out in his movies; i.e. the same way that Jar-Jar Binks did.
Of course due to the fact the movie is the brainchild of Takashi Shimizu (the man behind Ju-on) it’s as confusing as a visit to the locker-room in a Thailand stripclub. The narrative changes time and location more often than a globe with Parkinson’s disease, and provides little warning. The incoherence and repetition of the plot detract from the atmosphere that I was praising like trust fund brats smugly congratulating themselves after a hard day’s shopping. It also has a twist, which being a J-Horror cliché is not problematic in itself; but, whilst not wanting to ruin anything, once the twist unravels it makes all that has come before seem as useless as Castruchio’s genitals. The plot suddenly blurs the line between reality and fantasy in such a way that is tantamount to solving an algebraic equation only to be told the answer isn’t relevant.
I noticed a few other unusual artistic choices displayed in the film. Firstly Rin’s lack of visual perception isn’t so much a disability rather a mild inconvenience. It transpires she is actually able to see by utilizing a sonar of sorts, though no explanation is given for this and one can’t help but believe that out in the world somewhere is a disability benefits officer feeling cheated. Clearly the reason for behind this was to relieve actress Ai Maeda from the pressure of acting blinder than the oblivious member of a love triangle; but not even this makes sense for at least once in the movie Rin cowers around in confusion, indicating she cannot see and even asks “what is happening?” Essentially Rin is a blind woman who can actually see but periodically chooses not to even when absolutely necessary; this is otherwise known in video games as NPC escort mission syndrome.
The other aforementioned choice is the fact this is a 3D movie. I understand Japanese film companies must have been desperate to create the country’s first feature length 3D movie, what with the country usually being at least three generations ahead of nongermane fads, but The Shock Labyrinth did not warrant being 3D (even by the usual lackluster standards.) There are two moments in the entire movie that utilize 3D; one in which the past Yuki falls from a balcony onto the present Mikoto (Ryo Katsuji), as seen from his perspective, something which is quite possibly the only example of temporal manslaughter. The other moment is far more surreal, one involving the previously innocuous stuffed rabbit and time dilation. Had I actually paid extortionate 3D movie rate like a Sicilian business paying pizzo to the Mafia, I would currently be enduring gallstones caused by excess bile.
Overall The Shock Labyrinth is simply a run-of-the-mill J-horror, featuring a few promising moments rising like Jaws out of the sea of genericness only to be blown up by its flaws (masquerading as Roy Scheider.) The seasoned foreign horror buff will not find anything new here, only disappointment at an often moody movie with an interesting premise that fails to live up to its promises. It is let down by a confusing story coupled with utterly ridiculous scare tactics and it tries to make its 3D work but like a rotten relationship there are few worthwhile moments amidst brutal violence. The acting is what you’d expect from a Japanese horror, as in the characters act as though they had just been informed that they have been infected with a strain of HIV which can only be caught by having sex with a Velociraptor.