“The Complex” Movie Review

クロユリ団地 – Kuroyuri Danchi
(“Kuroyuri Complex”)
Japan 2013, Dir. Hideo Nakata

Atsuko Maeda – Asuka Ninomiya
Hiroki Narimiya – Shinobu Sasahara
Kanau Tanaka – Minoru

Time has stopped for the ghosts. Yours is moving forward.

Nursing student Asuka (Atsuko Maeda, formerly of AKB48) moves into the run-down and allegedly haunted Kuroyuri apartment complex with her parents and her brother Satoshi. It’s not long before the rumors turn out to be true.

When Asuka keeps hearing stranges noises from next door, she decides to pay a visit. To her shock, she finds her neighbor, an old man, dead. The noises were actually him scratching the wall. That’s when strange things start happening around the place. Asuka suspects the old man’s spirit, angry for not being found sooner. Meanwhile, Asuka is irritated by her family’s strange behavior, who act like nothing happened. She also befriends a local boy, Minoru (Kanau Tanaka), as well as Shinobu Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya) from the company who came to clean up her neighbor’s place. Sasahara happens to have some experience with the paranormal. He and his psychic friend soon notice that the old man isn’t the only thing haunting the complex.

Despite being director Nakata’s (of Ring and Dark Water fame) first return to supernatural J-horror in a while (not counting Kwaidan), I wasn’t a huge fan when I saw this in theater back in 2013. Maybe I was expecting a follow-up to Dark Water or something? In retrospect though, I gotta say The Complex is the most accomplished out of the latter period Nakata J-horror (The Complex; Ghost Theater; Sadako; Stigmatized Properties). The story is genuinely original, and with not only one or two, but no less than three different hauntings happening at the same time, will keep you guessing. Also nice that there are some rules as to how hauntings work. Like how you shouldn’t invite the spirits into your home, or how one moment keeps repeating for them.

Atsuko Maeda’s acting is absolutely spot-on. She has an emotional depth that a lot of other lead actresses lack and will certainly draw your sympathy. Until she starts going nuts at least. Anyway, it’s one of the most memorable performances in the recent history of J-horror. Side characters are appropriately interesting, with the possible exception of a certain evil spirit. One could also question why someone with Hiroki Narimiya’s looks would work as a cleaner, but we’ll let that slide. And we briefly get to see Taro Suwa as a friendly cop, always a welcome addition.

There is a pervading sense of creepiness and foreboding that’s often missing in recent J-horror, including Nakata’s own works (looking at you, Ghost Theater). It almost feels like we’re back in the early 2000s. We get treated to some great and original scare scenes, especially during the first half. Asuka stumbling through her dead neighbor’s apartment in the dark is a master class in atmosphere building. The run-down apartment complex speaks for itself as a location, but I almost forgot the mention that the camerawork and lighting absolutely rock as well. Not surprisingly so – Cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi was behind the camera for almost every J-horror classic we know, including Ring, Dark Water, and Kairo.

With all that praise, you’ll probably assume that there’s gotta be a catch. You guessed right. The ending is actually a huge letdown. You’ve probably read this before, but after all the creepiness and buildup, Nakata doesn’t quite stick the landing. Once the evil spirit’s identity is revealed, it ceases to be scary at all. We are then treated to a lame CG-ladden showdown that looks completely out of place. Mind you, it’s not as bad as Stigmatized Properties, and doesn’t quite ruin the whole thing, but it’s far from a satisfying conclusion. I don’t get why they always have to go crazy on the effects at the end. Too much money to spare?

Whatever the case, The Complex is without a doubt one of the better recent additions to the J-horror oeuvre. It may not reach the same heights as Ring or Dark Water, but it’s still the work of a horror master at the top of his game. If you can look past some minor missteps towards the end, I’d say it’s a must-watch for any Japanese horror fan.

The Good:

Original ghost story; some great scary scenes; decent acting.

The Bad:

Climax doesn’t live up to the rest of the story.

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