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Infection (2005)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/17/05 15:54:45

"To steal a line from 'Spies Like Us:' Glad I'm not sick."
5 stars (Awesome)

So the Japanese horror genre has gone from major trend to full-on explosion, and while I haven’t seen enough of this cycle to call “Infection” one of the best of its kind, I do feel comfortable calling it one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen.

It’s a masterwork of horror cinema, smartly constructed, effortlessly effective in delivering the goods. The film - the first in a series simply titled “J-Horror Theater” (“Premonition” is the next on the list) - is typical modern Japanese horror: heavy on the mood, extremely light on the plot (and, by extension, the logic). And yet it is so good at creating an overwhelming sense of dread that the story doesn’t even matter.

The whole thing takes place one night at a near-abandoned place one can only dub Negligence General. The hospital looks like the kind of place any reasonable sick person would happily avoid. Grime is their main output, ignoring patients their main concern. On this particular graveyard shift, poor management has left them overworked and understaffed. The stress keeps piling on, coming to a breaking point when a patient dies on their watch - and it’s decided by all to simply cover up the malpractice.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the mysterious patient dropped off in the emergency room yet. Yeah, this is a good one: here’s a guy whose body is melting into green ooze, and it’d probably be wise to figure out if such a problem is contagious.

Here’s where “Infection” goes right. Director/screenwriter Masayuki Ochiai refuses to show us this patient. We only see a hand, maybe, or a foot, or the occasional green goop dripping to the floor. But we never see the full body. All we see are the reactions of the doctors, whose faces indicate that we don’t wanna see.

It’s the oldest trick in the book, really. Don’t show the Terrible Thing, let the Terrible Thing grow in the imaginations of the audience. Anything the makeup and effects departments can create, the imagination can create something far, far worse. And so we think: for all the graphic imagery to come out of Asian horror in recent years (and I can think of some real gross-out doozies), for this Terrible Thing to be too terrible for even a J-horror picture to show? Man, that must be beyond scary.

See how our minds work?

But to merely indicate that there’s a dissolving body in the room isn’t enough for this film. No, we also get a doctor who’s a bit too calm and collected (and a bit too pale, perhaps?) for his own good. His quiet, matter-of-fact tone in the face of such gruesomeness (“a most peculiar case of liquefication of the internal organs,” he coldly, eerily explains) only compounds the chills.

As for the story, well, what we get is a long, terrible night where one by one, the staff becomes infected with, um, whatever the hell it is. And wouldn’t ya know it, it’s not just a green goop thing; before that, the victim slowly goes insane, seeing things, acting weird, anything to make a good creep-out. The movie rolls on, and we get people absentmindedly boiling their own hands, shoving needles into their arms, that sort of thing. On top of that, we get the other patients, including a demented old lady who talks to the ghosts in her mirror and a kid who wanders the halls in a wolf mask. Yeesh. If nothing’s going on in this movie that’s giving you the willies, just wait ten seconds.

Some may complain that the plot is too slugging, or even that it’s nonexistent. True, the film refuses to explain too much, creating a finale that’s unclear and, perhaps to some, unsatisfying. And yet I was fine with such an ending. This is not a film concerned with storylines and clarifications. This is merely a movie designed to pump as many scares into as short a time as possible. On that level, it succeeds brilliantly. “Infection” will rattle you, slap you around, gross you out, and put you solidly on edge. And it does so with no apologies, no attempts at irony or humor, no chances for the mood to lighten just slightly. Ochiai has crafted an exceptional horror tale in the truest sense of the term. Unless you’re feeling brave, don’t forget to leave the lights on.

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