Ever since the release of Hideo Nagata’s landmark effort “Ringu” in 1998, the term ‘J-Horror’ has been bandied about and adopted for numerous films and influenced efforts from other countries until a slight downturn of releases several years ago. Now that it seems that the style is amid a rebirth, the new film from director Hirotaka ‘Otsuichi’ Adachi, ‘Stare,’ aims to help reinvigorate the genre with its North American premiere screening at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival
Following several strange deaths, reporter Mizuki Yamamura (Marie Iitoyo) discovers a connection between the victims when her friend is the latest victim. Eventually, she also learns that all of the killed individuals had earlier invoked a sinister spirit known as Shirai-san, which her husband Haruo (Yo Inaba) also gets involved with. Slowly investigating the strange encounters alongside her friend Mamiya (Shota Sometani) a researcher on local folklore, they find themselves cursed by the same supernatural being responsible for the other deaths and must race to solve the mystery about the fiendish being before it’s too late.
For the most part, “Stare” was a solid enough effort. One of the more enjoyable elements here is the stellar story from writer/director Otsuichi that offers a strong central villain. The central specter, a ghostly figure that can be invoked or summoned through a specific curse that involves all those who hear the name spoken or written down. This ends up creating a fine folklore-based character of Shirai-san that is spelled out in the flashback sequence. Showing the cursed group retelling the legend of Shirai-san while at the motel, the ominous atmosphere of the hotel makes for a fine setting to tell ghost stories in the first place before getting to its chilling retelling of the legend, which ramps up the tension considerably. From there, the search for the source of the curse and how to break it drives the middle of the film where their investigation discovers the basis for her being free as the only means of stopping her.
On top of this, “Stare” includes several fine supernatural sequences featuring the spirit attacking. The opening attack on Kana starts this one well as her shock and horror are being expressed before the grisly death blow. Other chilling scenes include a terrifying encounter in a hospital where the spirit stalks a victim through the darkened corridors while an oblivious nurse searches for her, and a fantastic confrontation in the alleyway showcasing Mizuki and Haruo attempting to put their information about stopping Shirai-san to the ultimate test. Given that these scenes provide the perfect chance to showcase how genuinely creepy the spirit is with its grotesque features and distinctive eyes, which make a real impression when it’s shown, these elements manage to give the film plenty to like.
However, there are some big flaws here. The main problem with ‘Stare’ is the incredibly lackluster pacing by director Otsuichi. Very rarely is there any sense of urgency or immediacy from the actions created by Shirai-san, slowly taking its time at a steady yet lethargic pace that plods along from one scene to the next. By adding all the investigative work into Shirai-san’s backstory into this plodding tempo, to the point where the attacks completely disappear, makes that pacing stand out even more. Then, there’s the wholly rushed finale that offers a potential topper to the curse that could’ve provided the film with a solid storyline to play with getting brought up without any kind of build-up and then just ends up causing a really weird feeling. Some of the CGI is a bit much for the kills as the computer-generated blood is hokey and awful-looking, but beyond that, there isn’t much wrong here.
With plenty of stellar positives and only a few minor inconveniences to hold it back, ‘Stare’ really gets some enjoyment out of the setup and premise to make for a rather entertaining effort. Give this one a chance if you’re a fan of this genre or curious about this style, while those who aren’t as into this style or find the flaws detrimental should heed caution.