The Incite Mill – 7 Day Death Game -- Film Review

Classy, not too violent Japanese teen horror film is simple but effective.

ROME -- Reality shows have already spawned their fair share of movies; in "The Incite Mill – 7 Day Death Game,” Japanese horror veteran Hideo Nakata (who directed both the original “Ring” and one of its U.S. remakes, “The Ring Two”) gives the genre a coldly classy treatment that is gripping, if not terribly original. Smart and well-acted by an all-star cast, the film vaunts appealing, stand-out production design. The WB Japan co-production opened Oct. 16 in the No. 3 slot at the Japanese box office and could do business on offshore teen markets, though an English-language remake might be more logical.

Adapted from Honobu Yonezawa’s popular novel The Incite Mill (ergo the unwieldy hyphenate title), the film is given a very Japanese feel via local characterizations. Western audiences will find it a bit of a stretch to empathize with self-abasing women and hyper-assertive males, not to mention a hero who wears his emotions on his sleeve and often expresses them in shrieking tones.

Despite the psychological exotica, the film gallops along with brisk cleverness. The set-up is brief and to the point: 10 people have been chosen by a mysterious company to take part in a week-long psychological experiment, for which they will be paid a huge hourly wage. Two stretch limos drive them to a remote circular structure, named Paranoia House, where the experiment is to be conducted. Once inside, the heavy metal doors clang shut behind them.

If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, it is cribbed from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, aka Ten Little Indians, in which 10 strangers are assembled on an island under false pretences. Knowing they’re being spied on, but unaware they are on TV, the five men and five women listen to the rules they must follow, while sitting in front of statues in the form of 10 little Indians. For a while, Golden Age detective stories seem to be keys to unraveling a series of murders committed during the experiment. But it’s a literary red herring, as the only woman who reads books gets bumped off early on.

The hero of the tale is honest young Yuki (Tatsuya Fujiwara), whose frantic pleading with the group to trust each other and work together to survive their ordeal falls on deaf ears. Even his love interest, the beautiful innocent Shoko (Haruka Ayase), dodges his sensible suggestions. Everyone has a personal agenda, and the more murders that occur, the more they will be paid. And even corpses can earn extra money-points in this sinister game.

A nice touch is the evil robot that patrols Paranoia House at night on overhead tracks and unceremoniously eliminates everybody found out of his room after 10. This doesn’t prevent a good deal of nocturnal mayhem and hanky-panky from going on, as participants try to outwit the robot and kill each other.

Iwao Saito’s stylish windowless sets have a leaden solidity to them that recalls a five-star spa gone bad. The murders are bloody, but mercifully take place off-screen.

Production companies: Warner Bros Pictures Japan, HoriPro Inc., NTV, YTV, Twins Japan
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Haruka Ayase, Satomi Ishihara, Tsuyoshi Abe, Aya Hirayama, masanoori Ishii, Takuro Ohno, Shinji Takeda, Nagisa Katahira, Kinya Kitaoji
Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenwriter: Satoshi Suzuki
Based on a novel by Honobu Yonezawa
Producer: Atsuyuki Shimoda
Director of photography: Junichiro Hayashi
Production designer: Iwao Saito
Music: Kenji Kawai
Editor: Nobuyuki Takahashi
Sales Agent: Nippon Television Corporation
No rating, 107 minutes