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The Shock Labyrinth – Review

by Shyla Fairfax

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Horror director Takashi Shimuzi once again proves his mastery in creating something beautiful out of the grotesque with his 2009 3D feature, The Shock Labyrinth. This Grimm’s Fairytale-esque picture can be interpreted as a beautifully strange rendition of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. When a group of old friends reunite, they are baffled at the return of a friend thought long dead. Missing since “that night”, Yuki’s presence rattles the group to their core, but despite their questions and wariness, when she injures her head and falls unconscious they decide the only thing to do is to bring her to a hospital. There, they are confronted with the twisted truths of their past, and their role in Yuki’s unfortunate fate. Trapped in their nightmarish memories, the group quickly falls apart, and it becomes clear that Yuki has come back for more than a reunion – it seems she wants revenge. Suppressed memories prove to be a danger to everyone’s well being in this psychological thriller.

Takashi Shimuzi’s work often deals with larger questions about spectatorship (as in Marebito), the past (as in the Grudge series), and about how we construct memories and how these memories shape who we are. This dark tale certainly does not disappoint in this respect, as it explores the themes of death, memory, and guilt. The aspect of vengeance present in the film is larger than Yuki, and is very much about how far people can go before they can no longer live with themselves. In many ways, the collective memory of the group is what is haunting them, and causing their agony – and brutal deaths. The motif of creepy mannequins within the film also works to symbolize how easy it is for people to lose their humanity in a world full of resentment, hate, secrecy, and lies. Moreover, the character Rin is blind, and this used to demonstrate the figurative need to see among the group. Rin’s ability to see the truth once in the labyrinth puts her in danger, but it is also a moment of freedom as it is the finale to her journey of self-discovery, which is intrinsically connected to recognizing her own failings.

That the film was made for a 3D release is evident in its cinematography. As mentioned earlier, much of the imagery brings to mind the themes of Alice in Wonderland. Eeriness is created in the atmosphere by manipulating the speed (frames per second) so things sometimes move more slowly than they should. Also, the recurring image of floating feathers and bubbles are clearly meant to leap off the screen in a magical display of 3D technology. Because these moments are not overused, they are a very nice touch to the atmosphere. The motif of the bunny, Yuki’s white flowing dress, the spiral steps, and her inability to leave the labyrinth all recall Alice’s trip down the rabbit-hole, in a much darker presentation. Unable to distinguish fact from fiction, all of the character perspectives are untrustworthy which, for a spectator can be very uncomfortable. The main character, Ken, who believes he may have killed Yuki and repressed the memory, is the most difficult of all to read. More often than not things are presented form his perspective, but nothing is ever clearly delivered, meaning the viewer is forced to participate in his (and everyone else’s) confusion.

The music is also very compelling, like a lullaby its soft melody seems meant to create a calm, only in these circumstances it makes everything more tense. The tension builds more and more by the second as characters come to their own conclusions about what happened to Yuki, and it is through these revelations that characters get to learn about themselves. As they attempt to put together the pieces of that day they come face to face with their past selves, allowing them to revisit painful memories as well as learn new things about each other. It makes for a very interesting process of character development, and while no one is particularly likable, everyone becomes sympathetic at some point.

The Shock Labyrinth definitely paints a uniquely truthful depiction of childhood through the exploration of selfishness, young love, pity, and curiosity. How the children each justify their own actions which contribute to Yuki’s disappearance, while terrible, is understandable to some degree when shown through their own eyes. This is perhaps what makes children such great subjects for horror – there is always something complicated in their vulnerability, but also in their surprising grasp of the world in the most naked of terms; it sends a shiver up the spine. I highly recommend this film for all fans of horror, but also of fantasy and drama. Although you might see the “twist” ending coming, it is one fun ride. While I did not see it in 3D, I have to stress that since it is used in accordance with the fantasy element of the plot, it’s obvious that it works magnificently.

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Author: Shyla Fairfax

Shyla is currently in the final stages of completing a Master's Degree in Film Studies at Carleton University with a focus on Slasher Cinema, so it seems her passion for cinema has become a fixation by which she makes all life decisions. Her research interests include, but are not limited to, Horror and Gender. She is particularly fascinated by J-Horror and its relationship to notions of technology and the body.

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