Initially armed with the tremendous title Rabbit Horror 3D (tell me you wouldn’t run out to see that immediately), this 3D Japanese horror was inexplicably renamed to the bland Tormented for Western audiences. Directed by Takashi Shimizu (the twisted mind that brought us the terrifying Ju-on series — as well as its boring American remake The Grudge), this surreal, fantasy/horror blends elements from a number of children’s films such as Alice in Wonderland and The Little Mermaid, but its final product is decidedly not for children. Whether you should see it is a little more complex of a question.
Beginning with a scene of a young boy, Daigo, putting an ailing rabbit out of its misery in a gruesome way (hint: there’s a brick involved), Tormented tells the story of Daigo and his older sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima, from Love Exposure). Unable to speak, Kiriko serves as protector for the troubled Daigo since his mother is nowhere to be found, and their father is more interested in making hand-made pop-up Little Mermaid books than in paying attention to his child. But when Kiriko takes Daigo to see a 3D horror movie that features a creepy old hospital and a stuffed rabbit, the storyline takes a meta twist, with Daigo somehow pulling the stuffed animal from the film. When Daigo is then pulled into that same fantasy/nightmare realm by someone in a giant bunny costume, Kiriko goes after him in a creepy, surreal film that plays more like a horror movie hybrid of Labyrinth and Donnie Darko.
And if that particular mixture sounds exciting to you as an individual, there are a number of scenes in Tormented that will have you giddy with unease. Director of Photography Christopher Doyle (whose diverse cinematography career includes everything from the lavish Hero to the nauseating Dumplings) uses the 3D in some astonishing ways, with a scene of Daigo and Kiriko watching a 3D movie onscreen being one of those brilliant moments you can’t believe no one has done before. Seriously, the late-night festival audience was audibly excited, and knowing this was filmed with a hand-made camera is all the more impressive. Plus, director Takashi Shimizu’s ability to creep out his audience is on full display, with some truly unnerving scenes involving a giant bunny costume, with audience members unsure if they should laugh or be frightened (my favorite audience reaction). A third of the way through the film, I was on the verge of dubbing this my favorite new horror film, but then in the second act, as Japanese horror is unfortunately prone to, Tormented has an overly long melodramatic flashback sequence that obliterates the tension. An attempt to clarify the family’s history in order to set up a dramatic and thought-provoking ending is so tonally different from the brilliant Rabbit Horror 3D concept, it makes this 83-minute film start to drag. A return to the surreal dreamscapes late in the film is welcomed, but the damage done by the second act makes it difficult to ever truly get the audience back on board.
A flawed film, it’s difficult to suggest Tormented/Rabbit Horror 3D to anyone who doesn’t have a passion for 3D experimentation or Japanese horror. However, for dedicated film buffs who seek out unusual films, the gorgeous and creepy first act is worth the ticket price alone, and fans of Shimizu’s work will have a few bonus moments of recognition. Of course, seeing Tormented in 2D is probably pointless, making this a theater-or-bust movie, but if a 3D screening of this pops up in your area, any fellow genre hounds should consider it basically mandatory viewing.
- John Clark, at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival