Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Complex (2013)

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Hiroki Narimiya, Masanobu Katsumura

Directed by: Hideo Nakata

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Atsuko Maeda and Hiroki Narimiya in Hideo Nataka's The Complex

The Complex begins, like oh so many horror movies, with a nice, happy family – mum, dad, daughter, son – unpacking boxes in their new home. But awkward camera angles, puzzling dialogue, a sinister soundtrack and things that go bump in the night next door soon make it clear that all is not well.

'Don't you know it's haunted?' gasps one of daughter Asuka's fellow students at nursing college. Thanks.

Sweet, wide-eyed Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) is the perfect loving daughter, yet she seems to bear some hidden, deep-seated sadness. Unnerved by the sinister noises coming through her bedroom wall, she becomes convinced that something is wrong with her elderly neighbour, and after hearing stories in class of old people left to die alone in their homes, she decides to investigate. And, well, I'll leave it there, because although the various twists in this atmospheric ghost story are fairly obvious, I don't want you to hear them from me.

A little unusually for J-horror – in which the existence of ghosts is generally accepted fairly readily – The Complex flirts with the idea that the spooky goings-on stem from Asuka's fragile state of mind, the title referring not just to the apartment block or even to the knots of the plot but also to the mental burden its heroine bears.

'For us, time moves forward. For the dead, time stands still,' explains Asuka's ghostbusting ally Sasohara (Hiroki Narimiya). But in The Complex it's not just the dead who are trapped in stasis, but the living as well, imprisoned by past tragedies that won't let them move on. Like Chinese supernatural tale The Ghost Inside meets Let the Right One In, it's not just a spooky story but a psychological portrait delineating the effects of trauma.

However, it soon becomes apparent that, while Asuka's damaged psyche makes her vulnerable to supernatural forces, it isn't the root cause. Things all get a bit hokey near the end, descending into dodgy special effects and histrionic acting, but the journey there is well worth taking, a dark, brooding route littered with finely wrought scares from one of Japan's undisputed Masters of Horror. It's nothing like as chilling or ground-breaking as Nakata's seminal classic Ring (the blueprint for so many pale imitations, boosting the careers of pale, double-jointed women with long black straggly hair worldwide) but it definitely warrants seeing in its original format, before it's remade to star… hey, how about Juno Temple?

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