Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Starring Yûya Yagira, Ai Maeda, Ryo Katsuji, Misako Renbutsu, Erina Mizuno
Distributed by Chelsea Films
Most well regarded for his contribution to the early 2000s’ J-horror explosion in the form of The Grudge series, director Takashi Shimizu returns to the ghostly revenge genre with the visually enhanced Shock Labyrinth 3D.
Ten years ago a group of childhood friends – Rin, Ken, Mikoto, and sisters Miyuki and Yuki – led a fateful expedition to an abandoned fairground horror labyrinth. Scared witless by unknown assailants, the events that unfolded there saw Yuki disappear into the darkness, never to be seen again. Now, as Ken and Mikoto prepare for a reunion with the blind Rin, all three are surprised when a panicked Yuki appears at Rin’s door claiming that she had been held captive the entire time and has only now managed to escape.
When the trio bring Yuki to see her sister and grief-stricken mother, she suffers a nasty fall and is left out cold. Rushing her to the nearest hospital, the group discover the building eerily empty. It isn’t long before Yuki recovers consciousness and once more vanishes into the darkness, and they all discover that this is no hospital; in fact, it’s the same labyrinthine house of horrors that left them traumatised all those years ago, and Yuki’s intentions for their gathering are that of revenge from beyond the grave.
In an interesting turn, they also find themselves directly involved with the events of the past, all the while facing up to their own memories and guilt for their actions the day that Yuki disappeared. In fact, the story is possibly the strongest thing about Shock Labyrinth, with enough overlapping timelines (and narrative jumps to the future) to keep your brain engaged and the sense of intrigue heightened. Unfortunately, by the time Shimizu throws a final twist our way, it all amounts to not making much sense whatsoever with very little in the way of the ghostly happenings validated and the melding timelines left entirely inexplicable. Still, Shimizu has always seemed to pay more attention to the frights and setpieces than narrative cohesion, and this is no exception – though again, frustratingly hit and miss.
The set design is excellent with the labyrinth itself being an effectively creepy location for spooky proceedings to unravel, and the climax involving animated mannequins and a walkway populated with dangling, twitching burlap sacks is legitimately unsettling. The score also goes a long way to making the frights work; in the beginning being little more than a generic ambient type of piano scare music (much like one would find in a Japanese inspired horror videogame such as the Fatal Frame series) before delivering some real effort in the latter stages with a penetratingly freaky reversed-vocal offering.
On the negative side, Shimizu pulls out some incredibly idiotic devices in the name of fear that just don’t work at all. The worst offender is the floating stuffed rabbit backpack that the young Yuki wore when she disappeared, now seemingly stalking the group as a harbinger of death as it glides through corridors and walls, and even dispenses the vengeful ghost through its stomach zipper in an unintentionally laughable kill scene. Another incident sees the ghost’s eyes roll in a pretty grotesque fashion, before continuing to spin out of control like a Vegas slot machine; but the worst of all is an absolutely hilarious scene involving one character being repeatedly dive-bombed, head first, by the ghost of a smiling young girl who quite literally yells “wheeeeeeee!” every time before running back up to her vantage point for another dive. These moments serve to break the effective atmosphere and unease of Shock Labyrinth like a sledgehammer to glass. You’ll be hard pushed to find many movies that switch between the genuinely unnerving and embarrassingly ridiculous with such reckless abandon as this.
Now, what most of you reading this want to know, I’m sure, is how well the 3D is handled. Well, Chelsea Films’ DVD release comes with both a 2D version on one disc and the 3D, which is presented in the age-old anaglyph format so you’ll have to sport those ever-fashionable red and green glasses if you wish to watch it this way, on the second. Given the inherent problems with anaglyph viewing in terms of lack of colour reproduction and consistent image stability, I think that side of things goes without saying, but in his framing and visual setups director Shimizu does a fine job – wisely eschewing gimmickry in favour of using the device to enhance the depth of field, quite adeptly creating that “window” effect via your television. Like most things to do with Shock Labyrinth, it’s hit and miss, but ultimately well handled with corridors stretching far into the background and foreground elements such as suspended drops of water, falling rain and drifting feathers popping nicely.
Ultimately, Shock Labyrinth 3D is a decent enough romp with its fair share of intrigue and frights, but the moments of sheer silliness prove difficult to overcome, especially when the disjointed plot doesn’t gel as well as it needs to, leaving the final product disappointingly middling.
The special features come on the 2D disc, in the form of a selection of interviews with the principal cast and director Takashi Shimizu. Shimizu’s is the longest and the best. That man just loves to talk, and they really play up on it. For example when he suggests part of the interview take place on the ferris wheel (the film was shot on location at a theme park), they fast forward through sections as the carriage turns. In the end, he literally starts the story of his life when someone walks across the background with a giant “CLOSED” sign repeatedly until they abandon him. Funny stuff. The parts that they do use are informative and interesting, especially his thoughts on shooting in stereoscopic 3D and what he wanted to achieve with doing so.
Next up is a selection of very short behind-the-scenes featurettes regarding, once more, the technological challenges of shooting with two smaller 3D cameras simultaneously; the cast and crew wrapping the shoot; further on-set activity; footage of the film’s screening at the Venice International Film Festival with more interview time with Shimizu; a short piece of footage from the film’s opening night press conference in Japan and the theatrical trailer. Not a bad package, but on paper it looks a lot more than it really is, with the brevity of the featurettes meaning they lack a certain amount of genuine substance and insight.
2 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5