This chilling psychological horror movie is already a cult phenomenon. Deservedly so, because director Hideo Nakata employs a potent, spine-tingling blend of ancient mythology and contemporary urban myth, with ancient supernatural curses delivered by means of modern technology: the TV, the video and the telephone. An adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s best-selling 1991 novel, its pacing may be more measured than Scream fans are used to, but its subtly unfolding narrative and haunting images exert a clammy grip on the imagination.
Female journalist Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) enlists the help of her embittered ex-husband, Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), to investigate rumours about students who have watched a mysterious video, then received a phone call saying that they
would die in one week’s time. Seven days later, to the minute, they dropped dead. The video’s strange, abstract images, it transpires, are of a young woman called Sadako, from the island of Oshima, whose mother was known for her occult powers. Soon enough both Reiko and her husband have watched the video, so they must race against time to unravel the secret and lift the curse.
With the help of a quietly disconcerting score from Kenji Kawai, Nakata creates an eerie atmosphere of cumulative dread. Nothing is explicitly stated, but the ominous, incremental hints tease our imagination, like images half-glimpsed in a murky mirror. If you were frightened by the implicit, understate terror of The Sixth Sense, this too will seep into your unconscious and scare you witless.. (Japan, 1998. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 95 mins.)