Tormented (Rabbit Horror 3D) – Review
A young woman searches for her younger brother who was dragged away into an alternate world by a rabbit. 10-year-old Daigo kills a sick rabbit on the school playground that he adored. The other kids call him “rabbit killer.” Since then the boy has stayed at home and has been tutored by his sister Kiriko. Kiriko’s mother died of an incomprehensible disease 10 years ago. Since that time Kiriko has not spoken. Their father is distant & also silent, working away on his storybook illustrations. One day, Daigo and Kiriko go to watch a 3D movie. A rabbit suddenly pops out of the screen and Daigo attempts to grab it. That night, Daigo is lured into a strange world through the stairs in their home by a rabbit doll.
More famously known for his film The Grudge (2004), a work which would go on to later gain worldwide recognition as well as an American remake, director Takashi Shimizu has been quite the busy individual when it comes to expanding the boundaries of Japanese horror in new and exciting ways. One of these new outlets has been seen in the exploration of 3D technology within his most recent films, combining the technique with that of horror, a genre he is certainly most comfortable with. With his first foray with such technology being seen within his 2009 film The Shock Labyrinth, we see him return to the technique with his latest film Tormented, resulting in a darkly twisted tale of familial issues gone awry.
Those accustomed to Shimizu’s previous works know that he likes to express the psychological aspects of horror as well as the physical, developing a bizarrely effective relationship between the two. Whether this was seen in The Grudge, a film that presented an awkwardly unsettling relationship shared between a mother, father, and child showcased through the physical entrapment of the film’s characters by the family’s ghostly entities, or perhaps viewed in his film Reincarnation (2006), a work which dealt with a brutal massacre taking place within a hotel and the transmigration of the soul, Shimizu has certainly elevated his work outside the simple perception of Japanese horror. With Tormented, Shimizu once again delivers a narrative that, while seemingly superficial at first, further delves into the psychological states of its characters. But the true question remains—is he effective in doing so?
In many ways, Shimizu does succeed, but his missteps mostly stem from a casting standpoint rather than his ability to direct. Shimizu transforms Tormented from initially being one about a horrific life-size rabbit, to that of a character study coalescing around the family unit. While similar strands of this can be viewed with his previous film The Grudge, Shimizu delivers a world less frightful than the one showcased in that film, focusing more extensively on the emotional connection shared between individuals rather than presenting a plethora of easily disposable characters under the wrath of supernatural forces. Screenwriters Daisuke Hosaka, Sotaro Hayashi, and Shimizu make this most visibly seen within the characters of Kiriko and Daigo Imazato, a brother and sister whose connection to the past remains a crucial aspect to the story. Because of this focus, one could view Tormented as not necessarily a “scary” film, but one that emphasizes the emotional wrongdoings we commit against other people, most importantly that of our own family members.
This approach may not too appreciable for those viewers expecting Shimizu to return to the otherworldly apparitions and ghastly deaths of his previous films, with the film being underscored by traditional elements of Japanese horror rather than them being its main concentration. Those who do enjoy a little analytical bearing within their horror films will certainly be thankful for what Tormented brings to the table, and although not as novel as Shimizu’s previous works, it at least attempts to develop some better understanding towards the characters we see on screen. More akin to the second half of Reincarnation, Shimizu again delivers a cause-and-effect tale pertaining to the actions of one’s past affecting the outcome of their future, with his obvious touch of the supernatural to liven up the premise. The film increasingly becomes centered on the detached relationship between Kiriko and her stepmother, a relationship that once again returns to the notion of beyond the grave grievances—a familiar outlet for Shimizu given his previous efforts. With the rabbit figure being representative of a traumatic past incident faced by Kikiro, the film expounds upon this element therein creating a narrative centered on the anxiety and fear a child may experience when a foster-parent swiftly replaces their biological one.
With the film reflecting the inner fears of childhood expressed through a seemingly innocent creature such as a rabbit, the film is divided between being a psychological thriller and a formulaic offering of the generic monster film. While this approach could’ve easily led to disaster if left in the hands of another director, Shimizu showcases considerable skill and adeptness towards the material, balancing the two aforementioned approaches in a way that doesn’t weakened the focus on family for the sake of having a evil rabbit wreaking havoc. The allegorical nature of the rabbit within the film is addressed in a fashion that refrains from insulting the viewer’s intelligence—which is somewhat a rarity within contemporary horror cinema—constructing a clever and multi-layered narrative. While this is certainly routine territory for Shimizu as a director, there are some surprising techniques he utilizes to deliver Tormented outside the realm of your standard Japanese horror film, perhaps most prominently seen in the technological elements he integrates throughout the film—with the addition of 3D being a major one.
Regarding the promoted 3D aspect of the film, Tormented doesn’t necessarily rely on its inclusion as a primary way to deliver scares, but rather heighten the genre’s more common ones. With the traditional “boo” moments mostly being reserved for the likes of 3D techniques—such as creatures suddenly arising from a dark attic room to sequences such as the theater absorbing Daigo into the theme park-centric alternate dimension—the 3D elements of the film don’t appear as gimmicks simply to have viewers not attend to its plot, as they are carefully dispersed throughout—those expecting an excess of 3D segments will be sorely disappointed. This is a relatively new addition to Shimizu’s abilities as a director, so it’s nice to see him not go exceedingly overboard in regards to the technology.
Where the film somewhat deters from it being able to be placed alongside works such as Reincarnation and The Grudge for their uniqueness regarding the handling of common material though, is when you consider the casting choices of the film’s main characters—particularly that of Takeru Shibuya, who plays Daigo in the film. While one of the most crucial characters within the story, Takeru’s portrayal of the young Daigo is simply not as believable as one would hope, with his skills as an actor diminishing the emotional significance of the film as a whole. Now granted, while he is still a child actor, the film relies upon his abilities to encapsulate the fear and anxiety faced by his character—which isn’t exactly as impacting as one would hope. His acting just comes off as rather dull, especially with the likes of the exceptional Hikari Mitsushima within the film. When both are seen on screen together, Hikari’s acting—as the mute sister of Daigo—is certainly more genuine than what Takeru can offer. Her emotional range far exceeds his, even when such range is more specifically curtailed to his character of Daigo than anyone else. For better or for worse, the escalating fear that Takeru exhibits as Daigo doesn’t effectively reflect upon what the character is experiencing on screen—which is unfortunate given the strong performances by the film’s variety of other characters.
But even with this minor miscalculation on the part of casting, Tormented remains a film that showcases Shimizu still on top of his game. Those who are familiar with his previous film The Shock Labyrinth, will notice minor aspects of that film spread throughout Tormented, which establishes a connection that will sure to please certain viewers. His rearranging—and assimilation—of the traditional tropes of Japanese horror makes the film simple but creatively executed. While some may initially feel that the addition of a giant rabbit is clearly a ridiculous plot device, the film goes beyond simple gratifications to expand its narrative towards family oriented issues rather than common horror. This approach is one that Shimizu—although somewhat frequent within his works—has been able to successfully pull off time and time again. While Tormented’s premise may not be as original as one would hope, it still retains the classic nuances that have made Shimizu one of the most prominent contemporary directors of Japanese horror cinema.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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