Complex, The (2013)
Directed by Hideo Nakata
Last week, The Conjuring did well to remind us that, in America at least, it’s usually Dutch Colonial homes that have the most haunt per square foot. Of course, J-horror leads us to believe the opposite, using spooky apartment complexes with dark pasts to supply the scares. And who better to lead us down the hallway of another tenement of terror than Hideo Nakata, director of the now legendary Ring. Nakata has taken a little bit of a break as of late and perhaps it really was the brilliant Swedish vampire drama Let The Right One In that provided the inspiration for his latest entry into the genre. The Complex a.k.a. Kuroyuri danchi doesn’t ever approach the level of a classic but it is, to be sure, a well-crafted ghost story with a few hair-raising moments that produce plenty of goosebumps.
A young girl named Asuka (played by J-pop sensation Atsuko Maeda from “Japanese Idol”) has just moved in with her family (ghosts love a good housewarming party) to a foreboding apartment complex where strange deaths have been occurring. Her classmates, who live locally, don’t hesitate to warn her and soon after she begins to hear scratching noises on the other side of her wall at night. Suddenly, commuting into the city doesn’t seem so bad, right? Morning breakfast starts feeling like an old episode of “The Twilight Zone” when Asuka notices that her parents keep having the exact conversation every morning. Sure, domestic living can be repetitive and routine, but this is just plain creepy. Discovering the withered body of a forgotten old man next door found crouched with his right hand still stuck in the wall where he had been clawing, Asuka is then terrorized by his ghost, leading her to wind up racked with guilt at not discovering the body sooner. But what if she’s not the one he’s really after?
That’s all just setup though. The real story begins to unfold when Asuka befriends a lonely boy, Minoru, in the outside playground on the apartment grounds. With the help of a crime-scene cleaner named Sasahara assigned to the old man’s domicile, Asuka begins to learn the true nature of her new, cursed existence. The relationship of Asuka and Minora are definitely a character byproduct of Oskar and Eli from Let The Right One In and it’s the heart of Nakata’s The Complex.
Atsuko Maeda delivers a wide range of emotion as the tormented Asuko, moving from a carefree tween to a girl on the brink, and it’s hard not to be moved to want to help her, too. It’s an impressive performance, especially considering that Maeda’s day job is singing in the pop group AKB48 on a reality TV contest. Hiroki Narimiya as Sasahara also has some effective emotional scenes. The performance of Kanau Tanaka as Minoru is also solid even though he doesn’t quite deliver what’s required of him in certain scenes later in the film when the stories threads all start being tied together.
Nakata also uses color to interesting effect throughout The Complex, especially towards the end, with a lot of greens set against reflections of water which add a surreal quality to the more intense, paranormal sequences. Also, the jungle gym outside where the two youths first meet subtly warps into a whirlpool of red a couple of times. Nakata may be trying to use this water motif at first to mask and then to heighten another earth element that begins to play a role as the film progresses. Dark Water and Kaidan also put a huge emphasis on water so it’s not really a shock that Nakata would use it here as well. There’s not much room for a lot of flare in the more contained scenes, but a stylized exorcism that seems almost tribal in nature is shot exquisitely and proves to be the standout sequence of the movie. Nakata also touches on some of Ring’s themes of knowing your fate and being warned of death, which was also used in his sequel to Death Note.
Probably made mostly to appeal to the masses in Japan - it does have a major pop star as the lead and a TV prologue that premiered on the island back in April - The Complex could have been just plain average, but Nakata elevates it just enough to stick with you for awhile after watching. The real horror of the film, and how well Nakata makes it all come together, lies in the unveiling of the true fate bestowed upon those unfortunate enough to get wrapped up in the steady grasp of a lost, forgotten specter that also happens to be pretty ticked off at the living. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but The Complex alludes to a flip-side to that saying: Whether you’re living or dead, true insanity comes from having to relive a horrific moment over and over again and not ever being able to escape it.
3 out of 5