Thursday, June 21, 2012

In short: Paranormal Effect (2010)

Not to be confused with, well, you know…

Japanese American Reiko (Mirei Yamagata) and her very white American boyfriend Darren (Darren McIntyre) are making a short trip to Japan. The couple is staying in the house of Reiko's grandmother - who has been dead for a few months - at the outskirts of Tokyo for the duration.

That does not turn out to be very wise decision, because strange things start happening right from the start. Who'd have thought in a film called Paranormal something-or-other!? At first, the haunting consists of nothing more than a bathtub full of what looks like swamp water that leaves behind a spot which can't be cleaned, so as far as paranormal somethings go, the couple's comparatively lucky.

However, Reiko decides to spend their first day visiting a shrine, and Darren can't help himself but play the respect-impaired American and crawl around in a little cave he isn't supposed to enter. After that, things get weirder: an invisible presence seems to share the house with the couple, turning on the camera Darren uses to film everything anyway when nobody is looking; Reiko starts sleepwalking, muttering about swamps in Japanese. And that damn bathtub continues misbehaving.

On the couple's very last night, something more serious happens, leaving Reiko to wander the woods with Darren nowhere to be found. Reiko ends up in a psychiatric hospital, remembering nothing of that last night. After a few sessions, her psychologist there (Sayaka Kunii) decides that it's necessary for Reiko to return to the house to remember and get better. She's not the type of psychologist unwilling to accept some supernatural dimension to her patient's troubles, so she and Reiko will be accompanied by a shinto priest (Wani Yoshimoto) who will attempt an exorcism.

The Japanese POV horror film Paranormal Effect - shot in Japan by Ryuichi Asano and Teruo Ito yet mostly with English dialogue for reasons of authenticity and easy overseas marketability I suppose - is obviously one of the children of (the loathsome) Paranormal Activity, but unlike that film, it doesn't leave me rolling my eyes and looking bored. It's just a bit more of an actual movie with a script that seems to have knowledge of basic dramaturgical techniques, which - as you know - is not something you can say about all pieces of POV horror, a sub-genre whose films often become confused about the differences between a lack of structure and a feeling of authenticity. The characters don't act quite as much as total idiots than in the American movie I dislike so much either.

If this sounds as if I'm damning Paranormal Effect with faint praise, I don't really do. This is the sort of bread and butter, solid horror film that won't ever shake up its genre, but it is at its heart a solid, well-made film that knows what it wants to achieve (be a POV horror film riding on the coattails of a certain other movie yet doing it without being a complete rip-off) and then achieves it.

It's also a movie that has quite a few enticing little elements it never really explores too deeply, but that still can't help but make it feel slightly richer. There is the obvious element of culture clash, of course, with Darren standing in for every tourist romping dumbly through a foreign country ever, as well as the only hinted at mythological background. Most interesting of all, is the subtext about Reiko being the victim of the supernatural because she's subconsciously drifting between two cultures, seemingly neither able to decide on belonging to one, nor to decide on not having to decide on belonging to one; states of confusion like this do tend to open one up to the supernatural in these films. I do wish the film were a little more ambitious about exploring this aspect, but its mere presence helps make Paranormal Effect that decisive bit more interesting to watch than its title would suggests.

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