Saturday, 2 April 2016

Cursed (2004) - The Little Convenience Store of Horrors

A film recommended by writer Steve Duffy, this title came at the end of the remarkable J-Horror boom, following such renowned classics as Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Dark Water. It was therefore bound to be overshadowed by its illustrious predecessors, which is a pity. It's a very good take on the idea of the 'evil place' ghost story, and as such complements rather than slavishly imitates the kind of horror produced in Japan around the millennium.

Cursed (2004 film).jpgIt doesn't help that Cursed is an unimaginative title, and one that was in fact used by a Wes Craven werewolf film released the following year. The Japanese title is translated as Extremely Scary Story A: Dark Crow. I can't help feeling A Dark Crow might have been better, although crows don't play a very big part in the film.

Cursed begins with shock horror, as two schoolgirls get off a bus and head off to a (presumably fun) rendezvous, phones in hand. One suggests that they go into the store, called Mitsuya, to get some snacks. Her friend, however, takes one look at the shop and backs away in horror. Unfortunately this takes her into the path of a truck and she is killed.

The story then jumps to another day at the store, in which a female manager, Ryoko, arrives to handle the takeover of Mitsuya by the franchise she works for. She meets Nao, a schoolgirl working as a shop assistant, and the store managers Mr and Mrs Kitura. The Kituras have a Royston Vasey vibe, not least because Mrs K wears a neck brace. Ryoko starts taking inventory without their help and strikes up a friendship with Nao, who is day assistant. Nao is admired by night assistant Komori, another student.

A lot of weird stuff happens. Cursed is almost a portmanteau film because nasty things happen to any customer whose bill amounts to 666 yen. The first mini-story is about a child's ball that bounces out of a dark alley as the shopper is walking past. A small voice asks him to bring the ball back, so of course he picks it up and sets off into the shadows. After a few moments the ball rolls out of the alley and the little voice is hear again. An even darker sequence involves a bandaged assailant with a lump hammer and a dead girl in someone's fridge.

Events are even odder inside Mitsuya, as a customer wearing a parka (and looking like a horror movie version of Kenny from South Park) seems to have no face inside his hood. Nao is filling a chiller cabinet with drinks when she sees a pair of eyes looking back at her. Komori serves Parka Guy, which leaves him distinctly rattled. Thanks to a homeless woman Nao and Ryoko discover that the site of the store is cursed thanks to murders committed in the past (details unspecific). 

Meanwhile, Ryoko gets odd phone calls from her boss, an amputee who is jealous of people who still have legs. She explains to Nao that they are both able to see spirits, which is a curse. But love apparently triumphs when Nao rescues Komori in a very effective sequence that begins with the poor lad hypnotised by ghostly eyes peeping out of a toilet cistern. The twist comes when we find that things are not so clear cut, and get a new perspective on the original accident.

Overall Cursed is not visually flashy; if you liked Dark Water you'll appreciate this realistic view of Japan as a place of slightly shabby streets, neglected parks, and patches of waste ground. The overall effect is a nightmare that combines the most mundane elements of everyday life with horrific 'wild card' images. Not, perhaps, a classic, but certainly worth a look.

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