The Complex (2013)
(15) Running time: 106 minutes
Director: Hideo Nakata
Writers: Jun’ya Kato, Ryuta Miyake
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Hiroki Narimiya, Masanobu Katsumura
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Hideo Nakata reinvented horror back in 1998 with the astonishing Ringu, and single handily created the genre known as J-Horror. Following up with the sequel, Ringu 2, Nakata established himself as a leading force among the horror genre. Three years later came the critically acclaimed Dark Water, and Nakata even leant his skills to a US sequel to the remake of his genre defining classic. After playing about with other genres like social thrillers (Chatroom) and crime drama (Death Note), I was very excited to hear he would be returning to the horror genre with The Complex.
The first trailer was superb, and critics seem to have loved the film. The story follows nursing student Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) as she moves into a new apartment complex with her parents and younger brother. She does her best to make friends with their neighbour, a recluse old man who does not wish to be disturbed. She hears noises coming from his apartment, and his alarm goes off early every morning. However, the old man is soon discovered dead by Asuka, and has been for some time after dying from malnutrition, so just where have these noises been coming from, and who has been switching off the alarm each morning? From the position of the old man’s body, he appears to have been trying to claw his way into Asuka’s room.
She tells her student friends where she has moved to, and this causes her to panic as they reveal stories of ghosts and spooky goings on happening in the complex. A large number of unexplained deaths have also occurred, and just who is the strange little boy with no friends that Asuka has made friends with?
All will be revealed as Nakata (very) slowly unravels the mystery, and does his best to create tension and panic. The story itself is familiar, yet intriguing, and there is no doubt that Nakata can execute a story really well. There are moments of terror, but they are few and far between, and only a couple of scenes really sent shivers down my spine. Instead, Nakata concentrates of layering atmosphere and intrigue, as the story unravels itself and offers up quite a few surprises, twists and turns. So you will see coming a mile off, others will catch you completely off guard.
The Complex has many problems though, and I am struggling to see why it generated the praise from other critics. Don’t get me wrong, I love slow building, drawn out horror, but you have to have engaging characters, and sadly Asuka is not strong enough. She spends the film staring blankly into space, waiting for answers, or screaming, and for me could not carry the film at all. When big reveals happen, she doesn’t respond effectively to generate the sense of panic that should have come from it. Nakata also seems slightly off with his directing, with a number of long pauses as his actors simply stop what they are doing, and it looks like the editor left cutting to the next angle or scene just a few seconds too long.
The frustrating lack of music (it is there from time to time, by oh so quiet) means the films badly lacks impact, and here more than ever a creepy score would have done wonders to the films atmosphere. Nakata’s slow moving camera works in building the story, but a quicker camera is needed when the scares eventually come. The Complex has no urgency, and while films like Ringu built up a chilling story with little to no action, The Complex can’t sustain its slow pace because, sadly, it is just not interesting enough. Shave half an hour off the running time, and give the film a bit more urgency, and this could have been really special.
Sadly I didn’t get on with The Complex at all, and even though I appreciate Nakata’s immense skills as a director, there was something really missing here, which is a shame. Even the big finale with its weird séance and full on horrors had little to no impact, and the séance itself was laughable more than terrifying. It pains me to say it, but I was really disappointed with this.