Hideo Nakata is no stranger to horror cinema, having terrified audiences the world over with titles such as Ring, Ring 2 and Dark Water. His latest offering, The Complex, sees him return to familiar territory with an intriguingly structured tale of a young woman who moves into an old apartment building only to find it is haunted by former residents. Considering Nakata’s track record and undeniable influence on J-Horror and its international success, The Complex promises much, but despite its engrossing story, creepy imagery and carefully maintained level of tension, the director simply appears to be going through the motions. Which is a shame really, as there’s a lot to enjoy here despite the ‘been there, crawled out of that TV set’ aura that prevails throughout. Obviously it’s unfair to compare this to the likes of Ring, which was also a chilling rumination on millennial panic and Japan’s loss of traditional values through modernity, technology and the media, but even taken on its own merit, The Complex is nothing more than a well-oiled ghost story which recycles images and ideas from J-Horror’s back catalogue.
The measured pacing helps build tension as Nakata allows the story to unfurl slowly, languidly even, all the while subtly conveying that things are not what they seem. It is the quiet nature of the earlier scenes that provides some of the most unnerving moments, as an atmosphere of unease is deftly woven through long takes, skewed camera angles, and summery, sunlit locations which enhance the eeriness. We just know there’s something not quite right, and Nakata lures us further into the story, and a sense of unease, with oddly creepy moments featuring repeated dialogue, as he teases us with myriad possibilities as to what is unfolding.
The overriding theme of The Complex is guilt. It is guilt that plagues the central characters and makes them susceptible to the spectral encounters. As the lonely and confused Asuka, Atsuko Maeda delivers an affecting performance, particularly in the later scenes as her character, crippled by her own passivity, starts to lose her grip on reality. The title refers as much to the setting as it does her psychological state — and indeed the narrative, with its constant twists, turns and revelations. After the slow-burn set-up, and a neat twist that almost convinces us this isn’t going to just be another retread of familiar J-Horror territory, Nakata throws in vengeful/tragic ghosts and frenzied exorcism rituals in the latter half, which also explores various backstories and creates as many mysteries as it resolves. The appearance of the ghosts is beautifully realised, and one in particular resembles an infernal version of Santi, the little orphan ghost from Guillermo del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone.
Atmospheric and beautifully shot, The Complex may not have taken any new or original paths, but it’s still a solid and interestingly told ghost story that should appeal to admirers of Japanese horror cinema.
The Complex is available on DVD from 27 January