Director – Tetsuya Nakashima – 2018 – Japan – 133m
A monster relentlessly pursues its victims until one day it comes to take them away forever – plays UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2023 between Friday, 3rd February and Friday, 31st March
This is basically a monster film in which the monster is a bogeyman or evil spirit who after taunting potential victims – usually children – for a long time, then turns up and abducts them from this world into its own. You never see the monster: it’s all conveyed by preparation, suggestion and effect, and the characters’ actions and reactions.
And although the monster is apparently intent on abducting the child, various adult characters who appear to be significant protagonists suddenly get abducted by it. While it’s nowhere near the same league, in this respect, the film resembles Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) i.e. a significant character is despatched part-way through leaving another character to step into their shoes for the remainder.
The monster as such never physically appears (or, at least, we in the audience never actually see it) – its appearance is often presaged by following peculiar occult instructions, e.g. laying out multiple bowls of water on a corridor floor, or breaking all the mirrors in the house, accompanied by frenzied editing of quasi-abstract footage including camera-less animation (the sort of thing Len Lye and Norman McLaren used to make in the 1930s at the UK’s GPO Film Unit).
It also has a nasty habit of phoning and using the voice or voices of a known person or persons, so if the exorcist you hired to get rid of the monster and phones you with instructions as to how to repel it, it might be the monster actually telling you how to do things which will attract it or facilitate its plans. And when or after it arrives, blood can be seen to gratuitously drip down panes of glass. Since we’re talking typical Japanese block of flat family apartments, this can look quite spectacular.
Hideki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and Kana Tahara (Haru Kuroki) have a two-year-old girl Chisa (Aijyu Shida) who often complains of monsters, particularly at night. This could just be the child’s imagination, but Hideki has memories of a little girl he used to play with when he was little and, also called Chisa, who vanished, or a mysterious brooding presence calling for his elderly grandmother, and of stories of monsters who abducted children in the rural area where he grew up.
His old friend Tsuda knows someone, the girlfriend of his hack journalist friend Kazuhiro Nozaki (Junichi Okada) who is an exorcist, Makoto Higa (Nana Komatsu), but it turns out she’s not very good at it and is, in fact, slavishly copying her much more skilled and reliable exorcist sister Kotoko (Takako Matsu).
The Taharas’ relationship breaks down because he obsessively writes a hugely popular, rose-tinted blog about the joys and tribulations of parenthood while leaving her to do all the childcare. These scenes are underscored with jocular music, which seems a long way from what you expect in a horror movie, yet this allows director Nakashima the space to swing the mood of the piece from lightweight to terrifying at whim.
At one point, Hideki comes home to find Kana holding their child, the pair of them cowering in the corner having been visited by the monster. When he later meets Makoto and has her visit mother and child, Makoto turns out to be really good at looking after and playing with children, with the immediate result that both wife and child seem happier than they’ve appeared for months.
The phone calls which sometimes are and sometimes are not from the monster have echoes of Ring (1998) while the monster’s relentless, persistent hunting of its victims (and the film’s title) recalls Western offering It Follows (2014) not to mention The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) but it’s not really as focused as any of those other films. Still, at certain moments it most effectively ramps up the atmosphere, constantly veering between too homely to be true and scary / creepy.
Director Nakashima previously made the multi-award-winning Confessions (2010).
It Comes plays UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2023 between Friday, 3rd February and Friday, 31st March. Read my introduction to this year’s programme.