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Ju-On: The Beginning of the End
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by Jay Seaver

"They've worn the reset button out."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that the "Ju-on" franchise must take the ignominious prize for being restarted the most often in the last amount of time - since the original Japanese TV-movie in 2000 (for the sake of simplicity, let's ignore the prototypes made as part of an anthology series), there have been Japanese theatrical features, American features, and now this Japanese theatrical reboot. Oh, and there are rumors of an American reboot. It's understandable - the hook to these ghost stories is still good even if there's a bizarre resistance to expanding the eminently expandable mythos - but it's produced a version 4.0 that brings nothing but a new, inevitably younger, cast.

For those that missed it the first three times around, a Ju-on is like a sort of living grudge, an imprint of pure anger manifesting as the victims at the scene of a murder that affects those who visit, driving them to their own madness and crimes. As before, it is the Saeki family - father Takeo (Yauhito Hida), mother Kayako (Misaki Saisho), and eight-year-old soon Toshio (Kai Kobayashi) - at the center, with others serving as points of entry: Yui Ikuno (Nozomi Sasaki) is the new teacher for Toshio's third-grade class, as the previous one mysteriously disappeared (hmmm); she's got a screenwriter boyfriend, Naoto (Sho Aoyogi). There's also tall-but-timid teenager Nanami (Reina Triendl), pushed by her new friends Yayoi (Yuina Kuroshima), Rina (Miho Kanazawa), and Aoi (Haori Takahashi) to explore a very familiar house that Ali's realtor sister is having trouble selling because of its history.

I may have missed something in the untranslated credits, but I believe that this is the first entry in the franchise made without even the town involvement of creator Takashi Shimizu (after directing six of the things and consulting on 2009's direct-to-video entries, he may have had enough), and his participation does seem to be missed. New director Masayuki Ochiai and co-writer Takashige Ichise retain almost all of the movies' trademarks, from breaking the movie into intersecting chapters that don't always fit together in the expected ways to the creaking sound by which the ghosts announce their presence, but as with the ”White Ghost " and "Black Ghost" entries, the results don't quite measure up - the new Toshio doesn't perfectly appear in the shadows, for instance, and the line between precisely creating a foreboding atmosphere and just showing something weird can be awfully thin. There are hints that they might try something new, style-wise, when the movie opens with a first-person sequence, but that soon falls by the wayside.

The fractured timeline also proves to be a tricky beast to matter; there's a surprise or two in there, although nothing nearly as good as the causality-busting pretzel of Ju-on: The Grudge 2 - aside, perhaps, from the possibility that despite the new actors in returning roles, this is possibly less a sequel than a refresh, looking at events from the previous films from a different perspective (aside from the Saekis, it's a new cast of characters). Whether remake, reboot, or refresh, it makes for a disappointingly timid new beginning; rather than expanding the mythology, allowing the curse to spread with new ghosts with their own stories, or changing the storytelling gimmick - finding the core of what made the previous versions work and putting a new spin on it for a new audience, as the best remake do - this feels like backing off from the other sequels' attempts to do new things. Moving back to a familiar place in the property's history and populating the movie with pretty young faces to court a younger audience, is playing it safe, but how often is playing it safe actually scary?

Ochiai and company are at least given the resources to put together a fairly polished movie. The cast is pretty decent, by and large - Nozomi Sasaki and Reina Trendl especially stand out in the highest profile roles - although Misaki Saisho and Kai Kobayashi have a hard time measuring up to Takoko Fuji's and Yuya Ozeki's iconic work as Kayako and Toshio. It may not have blockbuster gloss, but it doesn't look or feel cheap like the 60-minute direct & to-video entries did.

I suspect that re-watching the Shimizu versions would pop up the same problems with the motive not having a sharp enough focus or the "kills" being king of silly; it's been a while since I watched them, and maybe they were and are better in my mind because they were my first exposure to modern Japanese horror. Maybe the idea is just tapped out. Whatever the reason, I fear that "The Beginning of the End" is a rather optimistic title as far as this property's future goes.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27332&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/03/14 19:46:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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