It is a sad indictment on a film when you want to write a review on it two days after you have seen it and you can barely remember anything about it. Sadly, this is the case for Takashi Shimizu’s “The Shock Labyrinth”.
Back in the late 1990’s when the horror genre was stale and consisting of mainly bloodless and uninspired slashers, a breath of fresh air came in the form of strange ghost stories from Japan. These stories seemed to hit a nerve amongst horror fans who had been clamoring for something new and exciting. Films like “The Ring” series, “Dark Water”, “Kairo” and the “Ju-On” films suddenly became massive successes and made stars out of their directors. Films by Hideo Nakata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Takashi Shimizu all became hot property within the horror genre, and were all highly anticipated. As usual with Hollywood, they felt the need to remake the majority of these films, and for the most part they actually did a great job. This is mainly due to the fact that the original directors had some part in them, with Takashi Shimizu even directing both of the English language remakes of his “Ju-On” films himself under the title of “The Grudge”. However as is always the case, what was once new ends up becoming old, and as time went on these strange stories of long dark haired ghosts started to become stale themselves. They were now the norm, and were becoming a cliché with most of them just being variations of one another. As such, later films by these once famous directors have seemed to suffer, and personally I stopped following them. Recently though I felt the need to go back and revisit these director’s more recent work and while initially I was going to watch Nakata’s “Chatroom”, after watching a trailer for Shimizu’s “The Shock Labyrinth” I convinced myself that this was the better choice.
As I said in my first sentence, my memory of “The Shock Labyrinth” is rather poor but the film is about a group of childhood friends who, on a dark and stormy night, are unexpectedly visited by another friend whom they had not seen in the past decade. The reason her visit is so unexpected is the girl, Yuki, was thought to have died in accident when the friends were kids, during an after hours visit to a funfair attraction. The friends are stunned and quickly take the girl home to her mother, who is acting very strange, as she apparently had a mental breakdown after her daughter’s death. After going up to her old room, Yuki is shocked when she sees a plush rabbit toy dressed in a tiara that her mother has been substituting for her, that she loses her balance and tumbles down the stairs. Knocked unconscious, the friends rush Yuki to the nearest hospital, but when they arrive all does not seem right. No-one is around at all, and strange things start to happen with events from both the past and the present seemingly occurring at the same time. It isn’t long that they realize that they are not at a hospital at all, but rather the funfair attraction where Yuki died a decade ago. Did Yuki orchestrate all of this just to get her revenge, or is something else entirely going on here?
During Takashi Shimizu’s reign as one of the masters of horror, he made a film called “Reincarnation” which was about a film crew filming a movie about a “real life” massacre. They shot the film at the original location of the killings and just like in “The Shock Labyrinth” the past and present merge as the ghosts of the original killings come back to re-enact the crime. Personally, “Reincarnation” is my favourite film from Takashi Shimizu, it is creepy and weird, very atmospheric and incredibly well made. Sadly, “The Shock Labyrinth” is none of those things, and worst of all, it makes very little sense. The first thing wrong with the film is the terrible acting from the entire adult cast, there is not a believable moment within the film. This is a shame because when we see scenes of these characters as kids, the children performing in these roles do an admirable job, far better than their adult counterparts, and as such the film is much more enjoyable when we are in the company of the kids. In fact the story of the initial accident that causes Yuki’s death is probably the most interesting aspect of the film as it looks how a series of simple mistakes can result in the death of a loved one. However, this is all destroyed by the ridiculous notion where the past and present combine, which makes it all so unbelievable. I must admit that I am normally a sucker for a good time travel paradox (I am a big fan of both “Timecrimes” and “Triangle”), but the use of it here just made the film nonsensical.
Shimizu in the past always had an ability to make even the most simple and non-menacing things seem scary, but in “The Shock Labyrinth” he has created one of the most embarrassing moments in horror history and it involves a floating rabbit backpack. Yes, you read that right, and while it is meant to come across as weird and disturbing, to just comes across as dumb and when that backpack passes through a wall like a ghost, I had almost had enough. Shimizu appears to have lost the art of creating suspense and especially atmosphere. There is almost none here. One moment which I thought had promise was the image of a girl slowly ascending a spiral staircase. It isn’t shown all in one moment, but rather in a number of moments, as it deals with a character remembering something. We know once that girl reaches the top of the staircase, the reveal will be terrifying, however it turns out to be terribly anticlimactic however at least there was a hint of atmosphere here. In “Reincarnation” when things happened in the past it was visually represented by a thick fog, and here again, Shimizu has repeated himself. Like almost everything in “The Shock Labyrinth”, this visual element just does not work, because the film is set in an enclosed area, so a fog seems quite redundant.
It is obvious to see that I was very disappointed by “The Shock Labyrinth”, but one aspect I have yet to talk about and cant, is the fact that the film was made in 3D. From all reports, this is another area where the film fails dismally with the effects being apparently very gimmicky and cheap looking. Again, as I only saw the 2D version on dvd I cannot confirm or deny any of this, but felt I should mention it. While “The Shock Labyrinth” is almost a train wreck of a film, I refuse to believe that Takashi Shimizu has lost his ability to make a good horror film. He still has the ability to create creepy images, he just needs to remember how to accompany these with the required atmosphere to get the desired maximum result. Since making “The Shock Labyrinth”, Shimizu has already made two other features, one Japanese and the other a return to Hollywood filmmaking. In fact, the Japanese film I am greatly anticipating because the great Christopher Doyle was the cinematographer on it. The only worry I have is that the film is called “Rabbit Horror 3D”, and after seeing the terrible scenes with the plush rabbit toy and backpack in this film, I just hope he has more to offer. The American film is called “7500” and is about a supernatural event that occurs on a flight over the Pacific Ocean. While I do look forward to these films, for the moment it pains me to say that Takashi Shimizu’s “The Shock Labyrinth” is a dud, and as such I do not recommend it.