P.O.V. – A Cursed Film (POV: Norowareta firumu)

Japan (2012) Dir. Norio Tsuruta

Schoolgirl actress Mirai Shida (herself) has her own low budget online show looking at unusual video clips and is filming the latest episode with fellow actress and ghost fanatic Haruna Kawaguchi (herself). The session takes an eerie turn when a DVD begins to play random spooky images of its own accord, even when the DVD player is unplugged. The footage on the DVD was filmed at Haruna’s junior high school so the director of Mirai’s show brings in a psychic investigator who suggests that both Haruna and the school need to be freed from their spiritual tormentor. Unfortunately this is easier said than done.

It had to happen sooner of later. The two biggest phenomenon in horror movies over the past fifteen years – the bare bones “Point of View (P.O.V – geddit?)” concept and the J-Horror vengeful spirit genre – being brought together. The man responsible is Norio Tsuruta who has previous in the horror genre with Ringu 0: Birthday and Premonition to his name; presumably the REC and Paranormal Activity franchises were an inspiration since it they have rejuvenated the home footage genre with the latter basing one instalment in Japan.

As per the conventions things start off normally enough with the two bubbly teens in typical bubbly teen presenter mode although Mirai is openly nervous about the supernatural element of the show’s theme. The footage on the disc provided by self-professed ghost hunter Haruna seems innocuous enough with the highlight of a dull clip being a door opening in an empty girl’s bathroom. When the DVD is changed for another one, it replays the same footage only this time a hand can be seen behind the door. Suddenly a number of random images are shown each spooking the girls more and more. All of this is of course caught on camera as the show’s producer was making a “making of” documentary of the show and – you guessed it – this footage shows an additional spectral presence reflected in a window.

The trip to the school brings its own mystery when the headmistress digs out some twenty year old footage with its own unwelcome apparition looming ominously in the background, tenuously linked to the suicide of a heartbroken girl named Yuko. This is just the beginning of the chilling events that take place, as all the things you wouldn’t want to happen in an empty school allegedly possessed by a vengeful spirit slowly occur.

If you want to know what happens next then you’ll have to watch the film yourself as to go any further with the plot would be to spoil it. Certainly, it covers a lot of ground now familiar to the POV genre but don’t be fooled into thinking this is completely clichéd – Tsuruta has a few tricks up his sleeve including a final act twist that is easily missed through impatience. The success of this swerve will depend on how much leeway one has already given the film; suffice to say Tsuruta wasn’t content to stick too closely to the tried and tested formula and had a little something extra hidden up his sleeve.

There is a palpable sense of dread and unease pervasive throughout, its presence more subtle in the lighter moments at the beginning. As the film progresses the silence becomes unnaturally deafening and the flickering of a light bulb a foreboding omen. You’d be amazed how something as simple as a toilet stall door being slowly opened can be so suspenseful – just one of the strengths of the film’s ability to get under the viewer’s skin. Even if one does have an idea of what is going to happen there are some genuinely neat scares to catch even the most hardened horror fan off guard, and Tsuruta cleverly employs the filming aspect of the plot for some additionally effective ideas, with the odd little nuance thrown in like a tape flicker or loss of sound add an air of authenticity to the overall atmosphere.

Admittedly it is not all perfect; there are some spots which feel too forced and “acted” while the vengeful spirit premise feels less valid in this context but on the whole, there are little complaints to be made concerning the verisimilitude of the terror the cast experience as well as how convincing the “real life” footage comes across. One could possibly argue using two well know teen actresses in Mirai Shida and Haruna Kawaguchi was a risk since acting is their game, but by the same token with the twist of them portraying themselves, the suggestion is that no acting was required (insert your own joke here) which adds to the film’s credibility.

P.O.V. – A Cursed Film is hardly an exercise in re-inventing the wheel but it delivers an effective and sufficient enough dose of high tension and creepy entertainment with a few bold and subversive ideas thrown in for good measure. Recommended as a solid seasonal diversion but definitely worth a look in favour of the many substandard  Ringu clones out there.