Judge Daryl Loomis regularly recreates scenes from his favorite movie, Air Bud.
For these girls, death is the only escape.
In order to rehearse for a production by their school's filmmaking club, a group of girls heads out to a remote cabin with their teacher. The night before they go, two of the girls discover a videotape that shows the brutal murder of a woman by somebody in a Noh theater mask. Did the murder happen for real, or was it staged for a previous version of the club, which was shut down after the disappearance of one of the members? When they arrive at the cabin, they discover that the incident on the tape takes place at the same cabin where they are right now. When their food and belongings disappear, and then one of the girls starts acting really weird, they begin to realize that not only was the footage on the tape real, but it might be happening all over again.
I had a lot of hope for Goruzuka. The DVD box features totally creepy cover art and, in general, I like Japanese horror films. Most of the promise, however, that I had felt at the start fell away as I watched the movie. It isn't a bad film, necessarily; it's just kind of lame. The video that they watch in the beginning is creepy in the same way that worked in Ringu, but it's one of the only things about Gurozuka that actually works as intended. It sets up the story with a good amount of atmosphere and, even though the video looks cheap and fake, it still carries the feeling of a snuff film that it's trying to convey.
After that, the best thing for the rest of the film is the deigan Noh theater mask the killer wears. It's a creepy white mask with gold eyes that works pretty well as a horror disguise, especially so when it's covered in blood, but when the best thing about a movie is a mask, it can't be very good. Beyond that, the film is pretty boring. Most of the time, it's just footage of the girls bickering, with the occasional and ineffective jump scare thrown in. When the big reveal of the story goes down, the general lack of drama or tension makes it fall flat.
The direction from Yoichi Nishiyama is competent, but dull. He doesn't present any discernible style, nor does he produce any suspense. The use of the Noh structure in the plotting is an interesting touch and those steeped in Japanese theater may really get into it, but it's a far to obscure thing in this culture to have much effect. The actors do nothing but complain, scream, and run around, though, so even if the theater aspect worked better on its own, the performances couldn't have allowed for that kind of subtlety.
Synapse, as usual, delivers a decent quality product in their DVD for Gurozuka. The anamorphic image is a little soft at times, but it features solid detail and good, consistent colors. The transfer is error free and, overall, looks very good for the film's budget. The stereo sound is average, though, with clear dialog and music, but with no real separation in the channels or anything to distinguish it at all. The only extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs nearly half an hour and shows the cast and crew clowning between takes. There isn't much information in it and not all the words are subtitled, but it's still pretty fun to watch.
Gurozuka isn't exactly a bad film, but it doesn't light up the screen with excitement, either. I wanted a gruesome story with effective scares, but all I got was a snuff film premise with a bunch of running around; so that early promise I felt ends in disappointment.
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