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JU-ON: BLACK GHOST is a short Japanese horror film, a follow-up to the
earlier two GRUDGE movies and a film made back-to-back with JU-ON:
WHITE GHOST. I watched WHITE GHOST previously and it was much the
better film: the plot held together better, there were many reasons to
watch, and it was pretty spooky. BLACK GHOST by comparison doesn't have
much going for it.
The story once again revolves around the long-haired ghost from the original, and as in WHITE GHOST the narrative plays out as a series of vignettes involving different but linked characters. Sadly, the whole is a lot less than the sum of the parts here. The main haunted characters are a mother and daughter; a second child died in the womb and is now possessed by the original angry ghost spirit which is looking for revenge.
The performances are okay, but this film looks really cheap and the scares are too well telegraphed in advance. Saying that, there is one great effects scene at the climax involving a distended stomach, the one decent moment in the film in fact; a shame that more of it couldn't have been like that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A young girl is taken to hospital after fainting in class. There, she
is found to have a cyst growing in her uterus. This cyst is actually
the remains of the girl's unborn twin sister, who was absorbed into her
body while in her mother's womb. The spirit of the unborn child begins
to spread a lethal curse to all those who go near it.
The Ju-On series has become one of Japan's most successful horror franchises, spawning something like seven films (two direct-to-video films, two bigger budgeted remakes & a further trilogy of American-made remakes) & has earned a reputation as one of the scariest ghost stories ever to come out of Japan. Indeed JU-ON: THE GRUDGE has been holding the title of 'most terrifying ghost story' until the emergence of the ultra-cheap but ultra-scary PARANORMAL ACTIVITY & its various sequels. In 2009, two directors were chosen to make a pair of DTV features celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Ju-On phenomenon. The films Ju-On: Girl in Black (also known as Ju-On: Black Ghost) & Ju-On: Old Lady in White (aka Ju-On: White Ghost) were released simultaneously & run to an hour each.
Ju-On: Girl in Black is one of the most boring ghost stories I have sat through in some time. It is well-made in a technical viewpoint but the story is poorly developed. I understand that Mari Asaro was trying to make the film similar to Takeshi Shimizu's original franchise by using the non-linear narrative structure & bloodless fatal hauntings but Asaro stuffs up the concept & botches the story by relying too much on what has become clichés within the genre. Shimizu at least had the demented genius & made the Ju-On films scary to the point of being life-threatening to those with weak tickers by using some simple but very effective tricks (the unearthly croaking sound made by the female phantom of the franchise & the novelty pop-up effects coming from the strangest locations) but made sure these tricks were supported by the story. Girl in Black doesn't have that luxury. Mari Asaro fails to support the effects with a clear story & the visual effects look extremely cheap. Not to mention that the absence of the franchise's mother-&-son team of ghostly assassins has left a gaping hole in this film.
Having said that, the film does have some reasonable spooky moments but this fails to elevate Ju-On: Girl in Black to anything above functional mediocrity.
I suppose it makes logical sense for the distributors here to combine
both Ju-on: White Ghost and Black Ghost stories in 1 screening. After
all, each is only 1 hour long, and narratively are somehow intertwined
together quite loosely, with their production marking 10 years since
Ju-on's cinematic premiere. Helmed by two different directors, we're
given two direct-to-video productions, each with its own flavour and
separate storyline dealing with the Ju-On Grudge curse, and frankly,
with its limited production budget and consistent elements,
For those unfamiliar with the Ju-on mythos (like me), fret not, as the films are self- contained, so prior in-depth knowledge is not required to enjoy what's essentially one of the longer enduring J-horror franchises out there, which has been remade by Hollywood as always. For both tales, the story lines were done in non-linear fashion, which is supposed to make you work at piecing together its chronology, with an increased challenge in White Ghost being two separate timelines you have to make mental notes of.
Then there's the episodic cliffhanger that trails off each segment. On its own, the episodes within White Ghost and Black Ghost can be extremely short stories of their own, since each contains its own dedicated shock-scare moments, though White Ghost seemed to enjoy making it look so cheesy with its atmospheric jump scares, sudden appearances and the likes, and I admit it did get to me, especially with that old ugly woman with a penchant for holding onto a basketball (yes, all will be explained in due course) seem to have a fetish for charging towards her victim / screen.
Personally, between the two, I'd prefer White Ghost to Black Ghost, mainly because of the storyline which was more engaging and kept within its limits, save for a tangent in White Ghost for AV star Mihiro to appear in a needless scene that had most of her screen time being butchered for a screening here (no, my friend who has met her before, says there's nothing sexy about that segment, more of a violent treatment which was rather tame that the censors frowned upon). For Black Ghost, it went off into the hokeyness of a Japanese medium of sorts, probably to show off some snazzy looking CG-ed belly, and a tale that's less engaging.
For what it's worth, these stories did enough to pique my interest in the original Ju-on mythos, and I just might pick them up on DVD just to see how those got executed. For starters though, I have to get used to how "The Grudge" can be used as a plot device for ghouls to get created / passed on, as I felt White Ghost had it quite nailed down, and Black Ghost didn't exactly do a great job on that concept.
I am a fan of the Ju-On series. Seen all four of the previous Japanese movies and all three American versions. This I must say is the worst I've seen (haven't seen Shiroi Rôjo yet). It's plain generic Asian horror. Nothing to do with the rest of the Ju-On series. Toshio appears in a scene but it's just tucked in. No relation to the plot at all. Then there's Kayako's signature noise every now and then, but also for no reason at all. I also couldn't find any climactic moments or the constantly tense ambient in the other movies. After 6 years without anything happening with the series, and now these two movies being released to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary, one would expect them to be something special. Unfortunately, they're not. Truly a sad disappointment.
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