Written by Junya Kato and Ryûta Miyake
Directed by Hideo Nakata
After several recent ventures into other genres with rather mixed results, The Complex marks Hideo Nakata’s return to what he is best known for: supernatural horror. The director who helped put Japanese horror on the map with his groundbreaking Ringu (1998) and its sequel the following year, Ringu 2 (1999), has produced some of his finest work here, with The Ring Two (2005) perhaps serving as an exception to this rule. Whilst The Complex is not without its merits, Nakata’s latest outing falls considerably short of the reinvention that J-horror has been crying out for.
Similarly to Dark Water (2002), the film begins as a modern take on the haunted house story, as Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) moves in to an apartment where she starts witnessing increasingly strange occurrences. Whilst it starts rather predictably, thankfully the plot twist around the mid-point proves a refreshing break from this, adding some much needed depth to the narrative. Staying true to the name, it certainly complicates what begins as a conventional plot, bringing the focus instead on psychological terror and inviting the audience to question what is being presented to them on screen. Instead of fully taking advantage of this position over the audience, the film resorts to padding out the story with well-worn genre tropes and clichés as it appears to run out of ideas towards the end, giving the inevitable feeling that this has all been covered before. The haunted house, the onryou motif (avenging spirit from Japanese folklore), the creepy young boy, the inquisitive female protagonist, the potential love interest, the customary exorcism and lots of flashbacks are all here, and the main problem is that despite some innovations visually and within the narrative, not enough of it is original enough to stand up on its own, and the end product feels rather recycled.
As ever with Nakata, in parts the tension is masterfully built to near-unbearable levels, yet oddly and rather disappointingly there is a distinct lack of any outright scares. Thankfully, unlike many modern Western horrors, it is not reliant on the sharp stringed instruments coinciding with movement on-screen to provide a cheap fright, and gore is not overused either, yet the focus seems to be on creating an atmosphere rather than being truly frightening. Despite this, certain instances of disturbing imagery do have the potential to shock, or at the very least make for an uneasy experience overall. Such moments, like when Asuka discovers her recently deceased neighbour, are relatively few and far between, which along with the wonderful cinematography, certainly adds to the impact. Unfortunately this is undermined somewhat by a finale that goes from being incredibly tense to completely over-the-top in a short period of time, and a moment even boarders on being unintentionally funny thanks to the amount of clichés that are resorted to.
Ultimately, The Complex is saved from being a bad film by some terrific visuals, solid acting and interesting plot developments, however it still remains too dependent on overused norms established by other horrors (including some of Nakata’s previous films) and is simply not scary enough. That said, it remains bolder and more exciting than many of Hollywood’s own attempts at mimicking J-horror, yet the high standards set in the past by Nakata make what had the potential to be his comeback more of a comedown in reality.
– Lewis Hurt