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May 03, 2012

The Shock Labyrinth

shock labyrinth 1.jpg

Senritsu Meikyu
Takashi Shimizu - 2009
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I feel like an old fogie, not only not being able to watch the Blu-ray version, but even worse, missing out on the 3D Blu-ray. I can imagine someone muttering about how watching a movie nowadays on DVD is so late 20th Century. Anyways . . .

It would have been even better to have had the opportunity to see Takashi Shimizu's film as originally intended, in a theater. Sadly though, unless the art theaters do some technological upgrades, or the multiplexes take chances on more imported fare, stateside audiences are going to miss some interesting work done in 3D, such as this film, and the British StreetDance.

The basic story is about three childhood friends who reunite after ten years. All about twenty years old, the dark and stormy night is disrupted by the appearance of a fourth friend, Yuki, who claims she has escaped from a hospital. Three three aren't sure if that really is Yuki. Meeting with Yuki's teenage sister, things go from bad to worse, as Yuki suddenly is in need of hospitalization. The hospital that this quartet finds appears to be in the middle of nowhere, and seem abandoned. As in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the film takes place in a building with a life of its own.

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I can only imagine what The Shock Labyrinth looked like theatrically, and can only hope that any filmmakers wishing to work in 3D would study this film. Shimizu emphasizes depth and a keen sense of color, expressively using yellow, pink and red. A shot near the end of the film, of a long corridor, and feathers floating down, took my breath away. Definitely recommended is the supplementary section which discusses the creation of a small camera, allowing for shooting in 3D in confined spaces. The film was shot on location near Mount Fuji, mostly inside the attraction, Labyrinth of Horrors.

Shimizu smartly steers clear of what currently passes for horror. Instead, there is a buildup of dread and creepiness, as past and present converge, collide and wrap around each other. Shimizu makes use of some iconic imagery, such as the child's rabbit back pack that seems to have a life of its own, and a spiral stairway with a red railing. I was also reminded of Alejandro Amenabar's The Others, where there is uncertainty about who are the ghosts, and who is doing the haunting in this house of horrors. The story takes on the logic of a dream where the characters are helpless to change their future, especially in the face of a past revealed.

On the face of it, Shock Labyrinth might seem resistible with the basic premise of young people trapped in a haunted house. But as anyone who has watched dozens of genre films, be they film noir or westerns, or anything else, will tell you, it's not the story but how you tell the story that makes the difference. And as for the 3D, Takashi Shimizu is much younger than Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, but I think he could teach these acknowledged masters a thing or two.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 3, 2012 08:47 AM