Well Go Usa // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 16th, 2012
Can you really trust your childhood memories?
You can tell a lot about a technology by who is adopting it. The more people adopt a technology, the more likely it is to stick around (especially if nothing better is on the horizon). As I write this, even Jean-Luc Godard has announced plans for a 3D feature, so one can surmise that 3D as a technology must have some legs, if everyone from a godfather of cinema to a low-budget horror auteur is turning to the process. Whether 3D is your thing or not, there's no denying Shock Labyrinth isn't a good enough movie to get anyone to do anything.
Three friends with a dark past have a reunion of sorts. When the fourth member of their group shows up with injuries the quartet retreats to a hospital. They're not so lucky, however, as the hospital soon turns into a nightmarish labyrinth which forces the friends to confront their past.
The famous film critic Andre Bazin is famous for saying, "Cinema has not yet been invented!" Most commentators have taken that to mean that we're still discovering what it is that cinema can do. Questions about whether cinema should be a narrative medium, what it can do that painting, theater, and radio can't do, and concerns about cinema's political impact where all circulating, leading to Bazin's paradoxical claim. I would argue we're in a similar position with respect to 3D. Though various versions of the effect have been around for decades, its twenty-first century incarnation seems ubiquitous. Yet, most directors aren't using 3D beyond the obvious "stick things at the audience" or "scare people when something literally jumps out at them" tricks.
The best thing about Shock Labyrinth is that it points the way towards a 3D experience that doesn't have to be based on poking out the audience's eyes. The weirdness of Japanese horror combined with 3D technology shows that 3D can be used for surreal effects which can be scarier than simple jumps. Hopefully, others will find inspiration in director Takashi Shimizu's use of the process.
That, however, is all the good I can really say about Shock Labyrinth. Takashi Shimizu is a horror veteran (responsible for Ju-On, its sequel, and the American remakes), but he seems to have gone off the deep end here. J-horror is known for atmosphere over narrative and scary images over coherent dread, but Shock Labyrinth takes that to an absurd degree here.
The plot is told in a mishmash of flashbacks and current footage that doesn't give audiences much to hold onto. The characters aren't compelling, and between the flashbacks and weirdness in the present, there's no narrative hook to keep audiences on the line before the craziness starts. The craziness itself is also pretty lackluster. The 3D elements can be surreal, like when Shimizu puts floating feathers in the frame, but it does not create "depth," as the director apparently intended.
The film is further hampered by the fact that it feels like it was cobbled together from a bunch of other films. I'm not a huge fan of Ju-on or its ilk, but at least that film felt like it was its own thing. Shock Labyrinth feels like someone put Silent Hill, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Funhouse, and The Grudge into a blender and put whatever stuck into the script. It's not original enough to be compelling, and the combination isn't nightmarish (or clever) enough to be compelling.
With that said, there's not much to complain about with Shock Labyrinth 3D (Blu-ray). We get a 2D and 3D version of the film on the Blu-ray disc, and a 2D version on a second DVD disc. The film itself doesn't look that great, with wacky colors and weird contrast, but this 1.85:1 MVC-encoded transfer looks as good as its source demands. Largely because of the low-budget origins and low-rent CGI, the source for this flick is plagued with compression problems and noise. These problems can mask detail in some scenes, though the film is by no means unwatchable. The DTS-HD soundtrack is a bit better. Dialogue is a bit spotty (sometimes masked by other, louder, sounds occurring within the frame), but is otherwise clean and clear. The surrounds get a bit of a workout during spookier scenes, and the track supports and impressive low end at times.
Extras start with interviews featuring the director and the main actors involved. They're all a bit over-positive about the film, but otherwise they share some interesting stories about making the film and some of its technical challenges. There's also a making-of featurette that gives us a peek at what happened on set, and a short press feature. Finally, the disc includes the film's trailer.
There's little to recommend Shock Labyrinth aside from a few strange 3D effects. Even diehard J-horror aficionados will likely be unimpressed with the lack of cohesion on display in this film. Though the Blu-ray does a fine job with the material and presents some interesting extras, they're the only aspect of this disc that pushes it to rental status.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go Usa
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Japanese)
* DTS HD 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 2D Version