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Tormented (Rabbit Horror 3D): VeniceFilm Review

Tormented - Venice Film Festival - P 2011

The Bottom Line

Twisty J-Horror’s three-dimensional visuals partly compensate for its general lack of depth.

Director

Takashi Shimizu

Screenwriters

Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka, Takashi Shimizu

Cast

Hikari Mitsushima, Teruyuki Kagawa

Japanese 3-D horror from cult director Takashi Shimizu goes less for terror than disorientation.

 3D is proving well suited to certain genres, and Takashi Shimizu’sTormented is the latest attempt to explore new dimensions of terror. While there are certain effects and ideas that work well, overall this is a ho-hum effort from a director who has spent most of his career working through various manifestations, remakes and sequels of his Grudge franchise.

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Shimizu’s name, allied with the stereoscopic gimmick, will ensure box-office interest. The fact that this is the first 3D foray for master cinematographer Christopher Doylemay also stoke interest even if this pedestrian effort won’t go down as one of the revered DP’s finest hours. Overall returns will likely be similar to Shimizu’s previous eyepopper, The Shock Labyrinth. North American rights to that film along with Tormentedwere acquired by Well Go USA a week before the latter’s midnight unveiling at Venice.

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At the Italian festival the picture was referred to both under its blandly generic title Tormented and also the slightly more enticing Rabbit Horror 3D. Apart from 1972’s enjoyably schlocky eco-chiller Night of the Lepus, in which Janet Leigh was menaced by a herd of outsize bunnies, the rabbit in cinema has more often been the defenseless target rather than a source of menace and threat. In this instance the only live rabbit on show is a diseased critter mercifully dispatched in the opening scene by 10-year-old Daigo (Takeru Shibuya), acting to put the schoolyard pet out of its misery.
He’s unfairly taunted by his peers as a “rabbit killer,” and soon withdraws from formal education to be taught at home by his librarian half-sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima), who has long since lost the power of speech. Their father (Teruyuki Kagawa) leaves them to their own devices, having thrown himself into his work as a creator of pop-up books following the death of his second wife, Daigo’s mother. Daigo’s mental instability yields scary hallucinations involving a fun fair, abandoned hospital and a six-foot figure in a white rabbit costume whose intent may be benevolent or malign.

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The figure of the white rabbit clearly nods to both Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko and Lewis Carroll’s Alicebooks. Shimizu and his co-scriptwriters Sotaro Hayashi andDaisuke Hosakalikewise steer us through disorientingly numerous layers of reality and fantasy as we explore Daigo’s overactive imagination (or do we?).
Some of these episodes are more effective than others. The eerie fun fair and abandoned hospital are by now sorely overused horror locations, Shimizu himself having been down these particular sinister alleys as recently as Shock Labyrinth. A visit by Daigo and Kiriko to their local cinema feels much more fresh and original: This must be one of the first 3D movies, perhaps even the first, in which the characters themselves attend a 3D movie. The 3D illusion of cinema intruding into the actual world is nimbly visualized when Daigo reaches up and grabs a rabbit toy which appears to be floating towards him out of the screen – a Purple Rose of Cairo moment that’s no less effective for being more about imagination than horror per se.

Indeed, gorehounds will likely reject Tormented for its minimal body-count: Like Joe Dante’s 3D The Hole, while it deals with extreme psychological traumas, Tormented is really more an exercise in spooky disorientation than nerve-shredding terror. But the various reveals and plot-convolutions have a perfunctory feel, with the characters essentially pawns being moved around for the sake of various contrived narrative developments.

The horror genre has been certainly been kind to Shimizu over the years, but this latest example suggests he might be better off seeking gentler modes of expression in future – the pop-up books created by Daigo’s dad are decidedly un-horrific marvels of pastel-painted cardboard, intricate wonders which we’re allowed to properly and minutely explore as the end credits roll.
 
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production company: Ogura Jimusyo
Cast: Hikari Mitsushima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Takeru Shibuya, Tamaki Ogawa, Nao Omori
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Screenwriters: Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka, Takashi Shimizu
Producers: Saturo Ogura, Masayuki Tanishima
Director of photography: Christopher Doyle
Production designer: Noriyoshi Ikeya
Music: Kenji Kawai
Editors: Yoshisuke Hori
Sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam
No rating, 83 minutes