When Japanese horror took the United States by storm in the early 2000s, movie theaters saw a slew of “The Ring”-inspired remakes like “The Grudge” and “Dark Water” terrifying viewers across the nation. But the trend grew tired within a few years and J-Horror took its place in Japan once again.
While “The Ring” and “The Grudge” are good horror movies, they’re a limited representation of J-Horror. All but abandoning genre conventions, “Noroi” breathes life into the genre.
Playing out in “found footage” style, paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi disappears after finishing his most disturbing documentary yet, “The Curse.” What’s shown is that documentary.
By the genre’s standards, the film’s plot is old hat. Where it shines is the format. Intercutting variety show segments with interviews, the movie delivers conventional scares in unconventional ways. Any horror fan has seen the pale-skinned boy and girl archetype before, but with expert pacing and a killer air of tension, “The Curse” becomes something special.
Clocking in at around two hours, the movie takes its time and builds slowly, resulting in nightmarish catharsis by its end. That being said, it can’t escape some trappings of the genre. When it falls victim to conventionality, “Noroi” gets boring. Thankfully, that happens only once or twice.
Even after all is said and done, the movie’s central mystery still lingers. If there’s anything a horror movie should accomplish by the credits, it’s leaving the viewer with unanswerable questions and a desperate need for answers. “Noroi” does this and then some.
J-Horror and “found footage” filmmakers could learn something from director Shiraishi’s patience with his story. There’s no excess here. All lines and frames are important. But even so, “Noroi” needs just under two hours to explore every avenue of its nuanced narrative.
Breathing life simultaneously into both the J-Horror and the “found footage” genre, “Noroi” is a hidden gem that should be more lauded. It hexes the viewer with mystery and never absolves it, even after the credits. But be warned, after wading in its dark depths, there’s no coming out.