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The Complex – Review

by Olivia Saperstein

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Auska is a young woman who recently moved into a housing complex with her family. When a classmate informs her that her home is haunted, Asuka starts to experience a series of strange occurrences; an unyielding neighbors’ alarm clock, scratching noises, and the same repetitious conversation held by her parents each morning.

Soon Asuka befriends a neighborhood boy, and as she begins to investigate the home of her strange neighbor, we are thrust upon a series of twists that will leave viewers’ dorsolateral prefrontal lobes in a tizzy.

It’s rare these days to find a “haunted house” tale that flips the genre on its head, focusing on internal psychosis, rather than external paranormal phenomena. At moments, Hideo Nakata’s The Complex gets there, and when it does it exposes the films most chilling moments.

But can we expect much less from Nakata, who is known for groundbreaking horror staples like Ringu (1998) and Dark Water (2002)? It would appear that the answer is unclear. For while The Complex threw all predictability out of the frame, it possessed a rather pliant disposition; while perturbing children are still in the picture, bizarre is found less in monstrosity than the mind of our dear Asuka.

This isn’t surprising though, as often Nakata instills the sort of fear in us that can only be imagined. He lets his characters tell their stories, which, when delivered well, can be even more effective than showing us, for after all, fear varies for each human as much as tastes.

Truly relatable are The Complex‘s themes of trauma and loss. Is it the death of our loved ones or the slow deterioration of our minds the true loss? The film asks this question while never answering it, nor ceasing to slow down. It includes many aspects of a classic ghost story–strange noises, creepy children, sad old men, exorcisms and anger, all the while teetering upon but not quite falling into a labyrinth of cliches.

Naturally Nakata uses glowing special effects to compliment his storytelling, this time emphasizing a ghost-like presence with water reflectors, and a warping jungle-gym matrix as the nucleus of dream sequences. Cinematographer Jun’ichiro Hayashi doesn’t fail to get creative with his shots. In a scene where Asuka is scratching the floor, he shoots from below a piece of glass up at her, seemingly to replicate a sort of supernatural and ever-pervading presence of the camera.

While Asuka’s cries and gasps are at times overwhelming, actor Atsuko Maeda withers away with alacrity as time passes and she continues to be haunted by ghosts, and her own past. Her ability to shift from fearful to possessed is impressive. Hiroki Narimiya provided a soft and placid presence with his role as the soothing Sasahara, which isn’t a stretch from the romantic roles of his past.

The film succeeds far more in its character development and psychological mysteries, yet unfortunately as it rolls on, we are fed more visuals, and the demonic becomes tangible, so the piece rollicks back to similar hauntings that have been made hundreds of times before (Ju-on (2002), Sigaw (2004), etc.).

What we learn in The Complex, is similar to a Buddhist concept called esho-funi, that says our environment is a reflection of our lives, and vice versa. In the film, as Asuka’s resolve weakens, the ghosts in her life grow all the more powerful.

Yet what can be more almighty than an expectant Fantasia audience, starving for Nakata’s latest feature, like an Ikiryo in search of a body. With a packed audience, and a final applause, it’s safe to say that Nakata’s work, in all of its variation, will always be welcomed in Montreal.

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Author: Olivia Saperstein

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