Nakata Hideo of “Ringu” fame returns again to the supernatural with “The Complex”, following up on “The Incite Mill” and English language outing “Chatroom”, both of which were met with a generally lukewarm response. Written by Kato Junya (“Meatball Machine”) and Miyake Ryuta (“The Grudge: Old Lady in White”), the film revolves around creepy goings-on in the public housing complex of the title, attempting to liven up the usual J-Horror clichés with a few odd twists and quirky touches. After premiering at the Rotterdam Film Festival, the film was somewhat of a surprise hit in Japan, topping the box office for an impressive two week period.
Former AKB48 member Maeda Atsuko headlines as Asuka, a young nursing student who moves with her family into the sprawling Kuroyuri apartment complex, site of a series of mysterious deaths a decade previously. Right away she notices something not quite right about the place, being kept up at night by strange scratching noises from the apartment next door. These turn out to have been made by her elderly neighbour, who she finds dead of malnutrition some days later, a discovery which understandably makes her less than keen to stick around. When the scratching noises continue, she starts to suspect that the old man’s malevolent ghost might be lurking around, and teams with Sasahara (Narimiya Hiroki, recently in Miike Takashi’s “Ace Attorney”), a young man who works for a company that cleans the homes of the deceased, to investigate.
“The Complex” is actually a bit of a stranger film than its fairly generic premise might suggest, and though it does to an extent rely upon some of the tried and tested post-“Ringu” Asian horror devices and motifs, there’s enough eccentricity here to make it stand out, at least a little. As well as drawing openly upon “Ringu”, “Dark Water”, “The Grudge” and others, the film also recalls Suzuki Kôji’s source novels, in particular “Loop” and “Spiral”, and shows the same flair for weirdness and ambiguity.
Without wishing to give anything away, this is definitely the film’s main strength, Nakata managing to work in some entertaining twists and shifts, some of which edge towards science fiction and “Twilight Zone” type territory, and this helps to hold the interest and to give the viewer a few surprises along the way. While the characters themselves are pretty inconsequential and the film lacks the kind of emotional involvement that would have made it more gripping and grounded, the central puzzle is fun and multi-layered, distracting from some of the more overly familiar elements.
Though he’s had a few missteps in his career, and never really managed to again hit the high notes of “Ringu”, there’s no doubt that Nakata is a talented genre helmer, and he does a solid job here of combining an eerie, off-kilter atmosphere with a handful of decent jump scares and shock scenes. Experienced fright fans are unlikely to be terrified, of course, though there’s a pleasing amount of tension and mystery to the proceedings, and a few well-orchestrated sequences ensure that things never get boring. Nakata is at his best when depicting moody urban paranoia and isolation, and that’s very much his approach here, with lots of shots of faceless buildings and a general air of loneliness and abandonment, the film’s two key themes. The complex itself is a fine setting, and Nakata makes the most it to good effect, putting the viewer in the shoes of the confused Asuka as she wanders around and tries to figure out what’s going on.
While none of this is really enough to make “The Complex” outstanding or the kind of thing that will be remembered long after the credits have rolled, it’s an above average piece of J-Horror that generally ticks the right boxes and adds a few enjoyable pinches of creativity. One of Nakata Hideo’s better offerings of late, it should go down well with fans, and features enough frights and creepiness to make its modest mark.
Hideo Nakata (director) / Jun’ya Katô (screenplay), Ryûta Miyake (screenplay)
CAST: Atsuko Maeda … Asuka
Hiroki Narimiya … Sasahara