Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fantasia ’19: Stare

There is a new name in long-haired, slit-mouthed yurei J-horror, but you don’t want to know it, because those who do, eventually wind up dead. It is not a pleasant death either. Basically, their eyes explode. There is a way to survive, but it will not be easy, because it is always hard to escape the wrath of a malevolent Japanese horror entity, especially the one we dare not name in Hirotaka Adachi’s Stare, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Mizuki expected to have a laidback lunch with her friend, instead she watched her die from some kind of explosive eyeball aneurism. Soon thereafter, Haruo’s younger brother dies in a similarly grotesque fashion. People just don’t die this way, so Haruo and Mizuki quickly find each other and team-up to investigate. A bit of nosing around leads them to Eiko, a mutual friend of the deceased. Unfortunately, she barely lives long enough to explain how it all started when the three co-workers heard a folk tale about a mystery grudge-holding woman, who killed all those who knew her name.

Alas, she will cry out that name to Mizuki and Haruo while in a state of supernatural agitation. Of course, they pass it on to Mamiya, a journalist investigating the suspicious deaths, who repeats it to his wife. Fortunately, there is a survivor—at least for now—who can explain how he did it (maybe there is a hint there in the title).

Stare is a fun film precisely because of its J-horror excesses. You will shout out loud every time someone utters the unspeakable name, which happens frequently. Sure, it is totally nuts, but the Macguffin, the big tricky gimmick, and the final twist are all deviously clever. Adachi (a.k.a. horror writer Otsuichi) executes the horror business with slickly sinister style. Scare is definitely scary, even if when it doesn’t make much sense (it even acknowledges its biggest logical hole, so you have to just go with it). As Mizuki and Haruo, Marie Iitoyo and Yu Inaba also do their parts, making compellingly earnest and believably scared witless protagonists.

While watching Stare, it is hard not to think about how much money Blumhouse could make with an American remake. Seriously, it has all the elements, plus several fresh wrinkles on supernatural horror. If you can take options on a Stare franchise, snap them up. This has the old J-horror magic of the original Grudge and Ringu—just check your pedantry at the door. Highly recommended for J-horror fans, Stare world premiered at this year’s Fantasia.