Film / Reviews

'It Comes': The bogeyman cometh in Tetsuya Nakashima's horror debut

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Tetsuya Nakashima has been filming the darker sides of human nature for more than two decades, the most commercially and critically successful example being his 2010 murder mystery, “Confessions.”

So “It Comes,” his screen adaptation of Ichi Sawamura’s award-winning horror novel, feels like a natural progression, though it’s his first venture into the genre.

Typically for Nakashima, a visual and narrative maximalist, the film is horror as relentlessly busy extravaganza, crammed with everything from wordy explanations to a blizzard of visceral shocks.

It Comes (Kuru)
Rating
Run Time 134 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens NOW PLAYING

This is counter to the slow-build approach of much classic J-horror, which gets audience spines tingling from a blurry video tape or a ghost glimpsed in the library stacks. The film’s never-seen bogeyman — or “bogiwan” — is the supernatural counterpart of a rampaging grizzly or Category 5 typhoon, rattling crockery and slashing flesh with deadly intent.

The sensory overload, amped to the max in nearly every scene, flattens the shocks as numbness sets in. It doesn’t help that the film takes its folklore, charms, spells and exorcisms with a straight-faced literalism that shades into the absurd. One exception is the super-shaman played by Takako Matsu. Impeccably dressed and coiffed and speaking excruciatingly polite Japanese, she is a cool, sly and welcome presence amid the overheated action around her.

First, however, we are introduced to the Taharas — Hideki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and Kana (Haru Kuroki). Their glowing faces at their raucous wedding make them seem like the perfect newlywed couple, though there’s something off about the hyper Hideki. After they are blessed with a baby girl, Chisa, he tries strenuously to be the ideal dad, sacrificing time from his salaryman job to be with her and blog about her every gurgle and burp.

Rumbling in the background of this blissful existence are signs that Hideki’s past is catching up with him in the form of the bogiwan. In the countryside of his childhood it carried off kids, including a girl of Hideki’s acquaintance, to “the mountain,” never to be seen again.

It announces its presence in the present with a flesh-crawling message, delivered by a colleague who soon dies a horrific death. But the fiend’s ultimate target, Hideki and Kana soon realize, is Chisa.

Through Hideki’s folklorist friend (Munetaka Aoki) they are introduced to Nozaki (Junichi Okada), a scruffy, chain-smoking writer on the occult, and his flame-haired psychic girlfriend Makoto (Nana Komatsu). She immediately senses their danger, but the entity is devious and powerful — and Makoto quickly finds herself outmatched. Then her shaman sister, Kotoko (Matsu), steps in and, with icy authority, plots an exorcism to end all exorcisms.

The story is told mainly from three points of view: Hideki’s, Kana’s and, finally, Nozaki’s. This unusual structure adds both layers of complexity and a certain disjointedness as storylines rewind or simply disappear.

One beneficiary is Kuroki, playing a woman who feels used and betrayed as her husband disappears into the fantasy paradise of his blog while revealing a narcissistic, abusive side. Given a role that could have been a standard “cheated wife” turn, Kuroki raises it to another level with emotions, from raw anger to disturbed self-loathing, stronger than the film’s credulity-straining scares.

Her performance hints at another, more adult film the formidably talented Nakashima might have made. Next time, perhaps, minus an unseen monster.

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