The last two years of the 20th century and the beginning of 21st century enshrined a surprise that would prove to be essential to the growing popularity of the horror genre- the arrival of modern Japanese horror. What separated this particular cinematic movement from other horror genres (slasher, gothic) was its influence from folklore stories and urban legends, combined with the necessary adjustments in order to place these old tales in modern culture. Although there are previous examples of horror films with similar classic ghost story influences, both American (”When a Stranger Calls- 1979, ”The Hitcher”- 1986, ”Candyman”- 1992, etc.) and Asian (”The Ghost of Yotsuya”- 1959), it wasn’t a specific genre until the late 90s, early 2000s, when a bunch of Japanese filmmakers, like Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water), Takashi Miike (Audition, One Missed Call) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Curse, Pulse), decided to add together an interesting technological spin in recurring horror themes, an innovative use of sound effects and design, more character-driven plot lines and a blend of scary Japanese literature and folk tales with earlier horror movies from their home country (Onibaba, Tetsuo). The overwhelming success of such J-horror movies, which led to multiple American remakes that proved to be huge box-office hits (The Ring, The Grudge), led to a handful of Japanese horror movies influenced by them. Some of these films where successful (Shutter, Carved), some others were not. But no one can deny the fact that there are many hidden gems in the tradition of their stylistic and thematic predecessors. ”The Locker” is one of them.
”The Locker” centers on the story of a fun group of youngsters, who enjoy everyday life and each other’s company. One day, they decide to investigate an urban legend about a mysterious locker that it is said to grant wishes for every coin you insert in it. During the days following their trial of how much truth lies within this myth, terrifying events occur and the lives of these kids will change for the worse. The main story may sound overly familiar and, sadly, it is. The basic problem the movie has, one that, despite great effort, it cannot seem to surpass, is the fact that it is predictable and all the scary moments and the featuring of a ghostly, female, long-haired presence resemble far superior J-horror movies. What the film’s script does manage to accomplish, though, is the creation of realistic characters, with whom the audience feels close to and can sympathize with, something that usually movies associated with the horror genre forget the importance of and often seem to ignore. The dialogue is well-written, feels fresh and works as a redemptive quality of the sum of the movie’s more inadequate parts.
”The Locker” is Kei Horie’s sophomore film and, despite some extremely awkward pacing choices, he mostly succeeds in creating a moody and atmospheric piece of horror. The director obviously had to work with an extremely low budget and he manages to demonstrate that a big budget is not a necessity and what truly matters in order to create a chilling and terrifying film is a talented director with the essential skills. Mixing together scary imagery and plenty of bold and unique camera movements and angles with the charming performances of its leading cast, Kei Horie proves that he is a talent to watch.
The cinematography is by Takahiro Hyakusoku, who succeeds in creating a scary and eerie atmosphere with the use of mostly natural lighting, is no small feat. Tsukazaki Yohei’s interesting score is well-used and makes the scary scene it accompanies scarier or the sad and moving ones sadder and more moving. Some creepy visual effects are a nice touch but, regarding the technical aspect of the film, the most impressive feat is by far the sound design. The movie understands the huge importance of sound, especially in creating a terrifying sequence, and, although the sound effects may sound derivative from similarly themed flicks, they do extremely well when it comes to generating scares.
Like many J-horror influenced movies that preceded and followed it, ”The Locker”, unfortunately, falls a victim of overbearing predictability and familiarity. With that being said, it is far from just an echo of better films, due to its director’s capable hands. It is an entertaining movie, certainly better than many other similar entries, and it should be discovered by fans of the genre.