by Mel Valentin
Written and directed by Masayuki Ochiai, "Infection" ("Kansen") is another entry in the rapidly fading "J-horror" sub-genre that made a splash on American shores with "The Ring," a remake of Hideo Nakata's Japanese-language adaptation of the best-selling novel by Koji Suzuki. Nakata directed the American sequel, his first English-language film. It underperformed with critics and audiences alike. Other well-regarded Asian horror films began trickling in, including "The Eye," "The Grudge," and, in the opinion of this reviewer, the best horror film of the last five years, "A Tale of Two Sisters." Remakes aside, smaller distributors entering the market recently decided to release lesser-known Asian horror films directly to DVD. Not surprisingly, mediocre films tend to outnumber quality releases. Case in point, "Infection."Central Hospital, somewhere in Japan. With an overworked and underpaid medical staff, a missing director, and a shortage of resources, Central Hospital seems set to close, despite several terminal patients that, if moved, might perish. With the staff ignoring persistent, insistent radio calls from an ambulance to admit a patient suffering from a rapidly spreading rash into their under-equipped emergency room, the table is set for the "infection" of the title to drive the storyline into a predictable direction, but before the infected patient arrives (and even after he does) at the hospital, Infection pauses and slides unpredictably into E.R. territory.
"This J-horror entry is, alas, DOA."
Two of the overworked doctors, Dr. Akiba (K˘ichi Sat˘) and Dr. Uozumi (Masanobu Takashima), are called in to help the nursing staff with one of their patients, an unidentified burn victim completely covered from in red-stained bandages. The unidentified patient goes into cardiac arrest, and the staff uses a combination of drugs and a defibrillator to restart his heart, with one exception: in the adrenaline-fueled swirl of action and reaction, a young, panic-stricken nurse administers the wrong drug to the patient. The patient dies. The staff agrees to cover up the patient's death.
An infected patient gets dropped off at the hospital, badly in need of treatment. With no clues to the nature or causation of the infection, another doctor, the taciturn, blank-faced Dr. Akai (Shir˘ Sano) suggests they study and document this new disease. By this point, the infected patient's insides have begun to liquefy, and a decidedly odd green goo has emerged from his wounds and orifices. Considering the risks, Akiba and Uozumi balk at Dr. Akai's suggestion, but Dr. Akai mentions that he was asleep in the room next to the burn patient. What does he know and what will Dr. Akai do if he does know about the not-so-accidental death of the burn patient? Forced into a corner, Akiba and Uozumi reluctantly agree to Akai's demands.
With the two storylines merging, the remainder of Infection's running time turns on the nature and spread of the infection. The infection spreads to the staff, attacking both doctors and nurses. With their numbers dwindling, the survivors become increasingly unhinged, engaging in bizarre acts of willfully self-destructive behavior. As dawn approaches, the overwrought survivors suffer from hallucinations (or do they?), including one or two real or imagined visitors.
Ochiai deserves credit for employing shadowy, underlit interiors, color filters, and camera angles (some of them striking) to create a sense of encroaching, stifling dread, but, by themselves, atmosphere and mood are insufficient to save what an otherwise underwritten, poorly developed script that delivers minimal shocks or scares and late-storyline developments that raise more questions than are ultimately answered. Ochiai also goes for an arty, ambiguous resolution, but instead delivers incoherent vagueness. He also allows his characters to nonsensically wander around the abandoned hospital long after the infection has begun to spread without the aid of masks or gloves (despite multiple disclaimers, the characters are continually careless in dealing with the infected).
From a practical perspective, Ochiai also errs by limiting what viewers see of the infection's effects (at least where hardcore horror fans are concerned) and by using a patently absurd green jelly or goo for what we do see (Ochiai, however, may have been hampered by an effects budget that didn't match his ambitions). Ochiai would have done better by using a different color (e.g., black for green) and a more viscous base for the jelly.Despite a strong premise, a promising beginning and tightly controlled atmospherics, "Infection" ultimately proves to be a disappointing, sub-par entry. Even hardcore, J-horror enthusiasts will have a hard time recommending "Infection" to anyone not already interested in sub-genre.
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originally posted: 03/02/06 15:57:13