Gurozuka (2005) – By Duane L. Martin

What was supposed to be a fun drama club get away to make a film, quickly turns into a nightmare for a group of girls who soon find themselves hunted by a killer that seems to be a demon, but is it, or could it be something more terrestrial? Years earlier, a similar drama club trip ended up with girls dead, missing and one that went insane. Only one survivor from the previous outing lived to tell the tale, and she’s now chaperoning this latest trip. She’s also the sister of one of the girls in the current drama club, and has never really spoken about the incident. The girls had come across the film from the previous trip, and had become fascinated by the demonic, masked figure that appeared to really be killing her victims. As the lines between fantasy and reality blur, the events of the past begin to repeat themselves. Will anyone survive to tell the tale?

Japanese horror, like the horror films of other countries, have a variety of sub-genres. There’s everything from paranormal suspense and serial killers to the most grotesque of gore films. This film, while it has some gore in it, tends to fall on the tamer side of Japanese horror, and is more suspenseful than it is gory, though there is some good gore thrown in just to satisfy everyone.

This film is low budget, or at least I can’t imagine it had much of a budget. That’s not to say it was lacking in any way, it just didn’t really need a large budget, and it’s a good example to film makers and studios who throw money at a film instead of crafting an engaging script that will draw the viewer in with an intriguing story rather than flashy effects.

This film has several things about it that make it great, and one thing in particular that I had difficulty with. Let’s start with what made it great.

First, as I already mentoned, it has a great story. Some people have compared it to films like The Ring and films of that nature, but I feel this is an inaccurate comparison. The film stands on its own with a good story and shouldn’t be compared to other films of a similar sub-genre simply because there are aspects to them that feel a bit similar.

Next, the film is very tense and suspenseful, two aspects which have been sorely missed in horror for a while now, though I am pleased to see more and more of today’s horror films shifting away from torture porn and over the top gore and getting back to the tension and suspense that truly makes a horror film fun to watch. It’s not the gore in a horror film that makes it enjoyable, it’s that feeling you get as your spine tightens and you’re waiting for something to happen that you know is probably coming, but leaves you clutching the arm of your chair just a little tighter in anticipation anyway. This film is full of moments like that.

Something else this film excels at is the masterful use of silence and subtlety to build suspense. One mistake I frequently see in films is the misuse of music. It’s often either inappropriate to the scene, or just not needed. This film doesn’t load town the tense scenes with that spine chilling music. Some of the best scenes in this film are silent, and the subtlety of what’s going on makes it even scarier than it would be if something over the top happened.

The acting is excellent. The girls performances and personalities in this film all feel very natural. There’s a hierarchy of social status, just as there is amongst school girls everywhere, and this hierarchy includes the appropriate resentments, attitudes and personalities to make the characters in this film feel real. The performances are very natural and it’s a pleasure to watch these fine young actresses.

Lastly, it keeps you guessing until the climax of the film. You never really know who or what is killing people. I love films like that. It takes all the fun out of it when you know what’s going on too early in the film. This film keeps it close to the vest until the proper moment.

Now, for the one thing I had a hard time with. For those who aren’t used to hearing Japanese names may have trouble keeping the characters straight. I had a hard time with it through the first half of the movie, but as it progressed, I started getting them straight, and by the end of the film, I was comfortable with who was who. I’ve seen tons of Japanese cinema, and I still had a hard time with it, so people unfamiliar with Japanese films will probably have a bit of a hard time. Still, the names aren’t tremendously important unless they’re referring to someone specific, but it becomes clear enough after a while.

Gurozuka is a suspenseful and tension filled ride that will keep you guessing and can be enjoyed by fans of any of the horror sub-genres. Synapse films has put out another quality release, an for special features, the DVD includes a featurette on the making of Gurozuka and the original trailer. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this one. It’s a great chance to see suspenseful horror done right.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Synapse Films website here, and pick yourself up a copy of the DVD from Amazon here.