Director Takashi Shimizu's Shock Labyrinth represents a couple of new challenges for the filmmaker behind The Grudge (aka Ju-on in their native Japan) series of movies: there's the technical issue of going from modestly-budgeted horror movies (with some games and TV work scattered about) featuring low production values but high on atmosphere to making a modestly-budgeted horror movie that will also be in 3D. Then, there's the fact that Shock Labyrinth is Japan's first attempt at the whole amusement park ride-turned feature thing that Disney blazed the trail for with Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion—the exhibit in question which gives the movie its title is a famous haunted house at a Japanese amusement park.
And it's in serving multiple masters here—technology and the license—that Shock Labyrinth occasionally stumbles, delivering an intriguing premise with frequently bizarre imagery, undercut by technical limitations and a thin plot.
The movie features a group of friends Ken, Motoki, and Rin—who are reunited after Ken moved away following the death of his mother. Motoki is dating Rin, who is blind, and has more or less served as her protector since they were children, while she has harbored feelings for Ken that as a kid he was perhaps too dense to notice. Upending their reunion is the arrival of Yuki, another childhood friend who disappeared ten years earlier, obviously disturbed, claiming to have escaped from somewhere. Is she some kind of mental patient? Is she even Yuki? Why can't the three of them remember precisely what happened to her or even the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
After a failed attempt to take Yuki home, the quartet brings along Miyu, Yuki's younger sister, who doesn't believe Yuki is who she says she is, and casting aside the good sense to call the police, the group of five now attempts to find a hospital to have Yuki checked out after she takes a tumble down some stairs.
There's no prize for guessing that the ominously empty hospital that they stumble upon will have something to do with their shared trauma and Yuki's disappearance—actually, I'm wondering how much tension there would be for Japanese audiences who are familiar with the Shock Labyrinth the haunted house, whose layout is hospital-themed. Beyond this point, I won't spoil the fate of our heroes or reveal what happened to them in the past, save to say that for all of the movie's faults, there are some interesting and occasionally clever structural choices in the way that he chooses to jump back and forth between the past and the present, occasionally allowing both to overlap.
Unfortunately, Shock Labyrinth never sufficiently builds up any real sense of tension. While it's an intriguing mystery/puzzle, the horrible things that happen to the characters and why they happen to them feel under-motivated—we get a piece of their past, some expository dialog, and then something bad happens to them. The evil presence that haunts our heroes acts less like a vengeful spirit, really, more weird and petty than anything else. Plus, not all of the characters' actions as kids seem especially convincing, particularly since their personalities are in many cases quite different from their 10 or 12-year-old selves.
As for the 3D, that's a challenge for larger budgets than Shock Labyrinth, which by the nature of this kind of horror movie needs to utilize a lot of darkness, which in turn means that the depth of field effects lose much of their impact. So look forward to lots of raindrop effects, alternating colors, and frozen action to get your 3D fix here, but don't expect any of it to be especially scary. Plus, the digital camera used has a bit of that TV look to it, so when the 3D does stand out, it's not in a particularly good way.
Still, as far as movies based on amusement park attractions go, this is maybe the second or third best.
My ambivalence towards the movie aside, the Blu-ray actually has some compelling features to it, the best being the 20-odd minute interview with the cast and the director. Either as an act or just by his nature, Shimizu is a little bit of an oddball, making him very watchable in his interview segments which take place around the set as well as at one point on a Ferris wheel. The rest of the cast provide some insights into their characters and it's a nice accompaniment to the slicker behind-the-scenes piece. The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD version of the movie while the Blu-ray itself present Shock Labyrinth in both 2D and 3D.
Shock Labyrinth is available now from Well Go USA.