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Loath Thy Neighbor

The Complex (2013)


Presumably by choice, "The Complex" finds Hideo Nakata retrenching so firmly onto more comfortable territory after the misfire of "Chatroom" that the whole enterprise seems distressingly familiar. Mr. Nakata had a big hand in forging a flavor of J-horror with solid international appeal when he made "Ringu" back in 1998; but that tone and style (and visual shorthand, and volume level) have become a rigid template, and "The Complex" opts not to rock the boat. Rigidity also brings the risk of incidental humor: This film features the most useless screen exorcism ever, a protracted ceremony of wailing, chanting and food preparation that produces no discernible reaction from the evil spirit infesting a haunted apartment building, but which could easily prize a guffaw from an audience.

The set-up is straight from the relevant rule book, with young student Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) moving into a new apartment along with her parents and younger brother, and discovering that the place has an unfortunate history of dead residents. Asuka soon starts to wonder what ghostly events are transpiring next door and who the slightly spooky young boy in the playground might be; but fans of this genre are already ahead of her on both points. Ms. Maeda has an appealing screen personality (no surprise that she has a following as a singer too) and rolls with the punches; but her character is utterly passive, and remains that way even when the film upends Asuka's reality and tries to pull the rug from under the audience midway through.

All this proceeds at a leisurely pace; and although Mr. Nakata takes a few gentle sideswipes at Japanese social order along the way, "The Complex" seems mostly disconnected from any solid contemporary concerns or the larger disasters that darken the country's recent memory. It's a straightforward scare machine, designed to satisfy Mr. Nakata's fan base and scratch the traditional J-horror itches of generational guilt and revenge, while also warning that the domestic exorcism industry has really gone to the dogs.


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