Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cult (2013)

Original title: Kurato

Idols Yu Abiru, Mayuko Iwasa and Mari Iriki (all three playing themselves as mostly sympathetic young women) are hired for a very special job - taking a plunge into the supernatural and entering a supposedly haunted house where a teenage girl and her mother are terrorized by something. Because this is going to be a responsible TV project, the lone director/camerawoman/who-knows-what-else also provides a friendly exorcist who will protect the idols and exorcise the house to the best of his abilities. Alas, things are much more dire than expected, and what looked like an easy job for the exorcist turns out to be rather more complex and problematic.

Fortunately, this isn't Paranormal Activity, and a failed exorcism doesn't result in the exorcist legging it out of the movie but calling his master for help. Yet even he might not be strong enough to get rid of the horrible force that now becomes rather possessive of everyone involved.

Director Koji Shiraishi has quite a bit of experience with POV horror movies; he even has quite a bit of experience with idol POV horror (yes, that's still a sub-genre of its own). Better and more importantly, Shiraishi also know how to take a been there done that set-up like that of Cult, and add copious amounts of the grotesque and the pretty fucking weird to it.

At first, Cult seems a very typical example of its genre, but things escalate quickly, so that about twenty minutes in, we already get a scene of a teenage girl eating her dog. Obviously, things only get more peculiar from there. In fact, right at the point where I thought I knew where this was going, the film made a sudden turn into the realm of the manga-esque when a very tsundere gentleman calling himself Neo (yes, after Matrix) appears to solve the situation after the two religious exorcists have been killed off. Suddenly, the film makes a detour into black humour, idol in-jokes, anime hair, weird posing, demon bombs, a teleporting idol ghost, various psychic powers and a cult trying to help a very Great Old One-like god cross over into our world, until the film just stops in an incredibly brazen non-ending. And all that on a shoe-string budget that can hardly afford more than two streets and two interior sets!

While it is obviously a bit of an insane mess, Shiraishi's film has the kind of energy that makes it impossible for me to not enjoy it, as well as the kind of all-pervading weirdness the director really seems to enjoy using whenever he can get away with it. After all, if you're hired to shoot a cheap horror film, and don't have the time or space to give it depth, you can still end up making something enjoyable to watch by the sheer power of strange flourishes you stole from various manga and anime shows and some of your own earlier films. This won't work for everyone, but Shiraishi had me convinced right quick.

I also admire the director for how little he seems to care that whoever is responsible for the effects has neither the time nor the ability to make them even the least bit convincing. Surely, having a dog's head walking around on a bunch of tentacles, tentacles possessing idols, and a giant face with tentacle-y eyes coming out of a ceiling are things worth so much as ideas that their technical execution isn't too important! I, at least, find it hard to criticize technical aspects of effects so clearly made to please me and all other right-thinking gentlepersons.

Compared with the often very interesting subtext or the actual creepiness of some of Shiraishi's better films, Cult's cartoon world isn't quite as interesting, but to me the spirit of just madly fucking around with strange stuff the film embodies so enthusiastically is something nearly as worthwhile.

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