For his next vacation, Judge Joel Pearce is forsaking his NetherRail pass for a trip on the Disneyland Railroad. It's a bit more cheery.
Almost ten years ago, Ringu came out of Japan and changed the face of horror films. The horror market was fairly stagnant at that point, and this new breed of Asian horror brought serious creepiness without the gore that forced the young market away from R rated slasher flicks. A whole new set of rules and conventions were born, as hideous monsters and large-breasted co-eds were replaced by creepy Asian girls and nerdy heroes. Nine years later, it looks like it's time for another change. Ghost Train is part of the mounting evidence that the Asian horror genre has been milked dry for a while, and I'm quite ready to move on.
One day, a young boy finds a lost train pass at the station. When he picks it up, a creepy woman appears next to him and warns him that he will die. An older teenager, Nana (Erika Sawajiri, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade), tells him that he's safe. She quickly realizes she was wrong when the boy goes missing, and her younger sister disappears soon afterwards. Now, she will rely on the help of Kanae (Chinatsu Wakatsuki), a loser from her class, and unpopular rail employee Shunichi (Shun Oguri, Azumi). There have been many unusual incidents in the same part of the tunnel, and they will all risk their lives to get to the truth.
I will hesitatingly admit that Ghost Train has several effective horror moments. The timing on the jump scenes is excellent, and the final fright sequence is more ambitious and thrilling than most of the ones I've seen lately. And yet, I found myself bored during most of these sequences. Why? The same reasons I wasn't shocked through the last few Asian horror movies that I've reviewed. For one thing, the characters are frightfully generic. I don't even think you can classify Nana as a character so much as she's a conduit for the action. If it wasn't for her perspective, we wouldn't need her at all. The same goes for the other characters. And, as always, it doesn't impact as much when characters we don't care about are in danger.
Also, the production team pulled out all the standard plays from the book, and didn't add any surprises of its own. If you've seen a few Asian horror movies in the past decade, you will be able to predict every plot twist, every shock moment. It doesn't help that the overdramatic music tells you exactly when something is going to happen. At any rate, the ghosts here are generic, and never really scary. The plot feels more like a collection of horror vignettes than a carefully planned script. They even cut away from all the grisly stuff, so we don't get to see the zombies get crunched under the subway train.
In the end, I'm stuck with the feeling that Ghost Train is really just Ringu lite. It's aimed squarely at the teeniebopper market, exploiting tried-and-true horror conventions with the balls cut off, so that younger teens can feel like they aren't being left out. But we're all being left out, because so many talented horror directors are running through the motions for cash, rather than crafting new and exciting ways to scare the crap out of us. If this had been the first new wave Japanese horror flick I'd seen, I would probably be singing Ghost Train's praises. It's not, though, and I'm left feeling cheated out of a potentially good experience. After all, some of that stuff at the end is really cool…Perhaps I can feel some comfort knowing that it can't be too long before some hip young director shows up and revolutionizes the Asian horror market again. As far as I'm concerned, that can't happen soon enough.
For ADV's part, this is not a bad edition of the film. The original Japanese and an English dub are presented in 5.1, and both feature solid surround usage and plenty of bass. The anamorphic picture quality is nice and clean, too, with good color balance and strong shadow detail. The dub itself is not great, but I get the sense that the voice actors didn't have that much to work with. For extras, we get a short production featurette, as well as a commentary track with the English voice cast. The commentary is odd, because it's clear that the voice actors know little about the film itself, assuming they actually watched it through before recording this track. Instead, it's like listening in on their self-centered blathering at a cast party. Skip it.
If you just can't get enough Asian horror, here's another one you can watch. Ghost Train is competently made, too, which makes it better than some of the ones we've seen lately. Just don't come crying to me when you start getting those feelings of deja vu in the middle. You haven't seen it before, it just feels like you have. At least the ghost doesn't crawl through a TV.
Guilty of ripping off the other passengers, Ghost Train's pass is hereby revoked. It'll have to walk home from now on.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Production Featurette
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