Sunday, October 6, 2013
Movie Appraisal: The Sylvian Experiments (Kyofu) (Dread) (恐怖) (2010)
What the hell did I just watch?
I guess I should explain. If- Well, it's impossible to explain, but I'll try to say what I saw on screen. This is the most convoluted and confusing movie I've seen since Dreamland, and both share that whole science and ghost premise that makes both even more confusing. I guess I'll try to come up with an interpretation, but I seriously cannot promise anything.
The Sylvian Experiments is the final movie of the J-Horror Theater experience. (Yes, I'm reviewing all of these movies heavily out of order.) It is one of the stranger movies I've reviewed on this blog. It's gory at times, boring to the point of nearly putting me to sleep at other times, and ultimately has no coherent plot at all. I honestly have no idea if what I just watched meant something or if it was just an odd little movies for reasons unknown.
Where do I even start? I guess at the beginning. The movie goes in and out of the past, present, and future constantly, making it very difficult to follow. The movie starts with a middle-aged couple watching some neurological experiments that may let researchers see something beyond the living world. Their children, two daughters, come to them while they are watching and are very upset by the whole thing. Years later, a young woman named Miyuki, one of the daughters from the beginning of the movie agrees with four other people to commit suicide in a van. So, it's a suicide pact. Yeah. So, before we even have a moment to learn about her character she is already ready to kill herself. Kind of a bad start. We never learn why she wants to do such a thing, just that that's what she's decided to do.
Anyway, she disappears and ends up in her mother's lab where she and three of the others (one of the guys was a plant to capture them) are used in the same experiments from the movie at the beginning of the film. Their heads are cut open in some fairly gruesome scenes, and little sci-fi metal machines are inserted into their brains. Two of them die. Another is a virgin (which is important for some reason although we're never told why). Miyuki and the virgin, Rieko, disappear somehow from the underground hospital thing and end up being like ghosts, I think.
Meanwhile, Miyuki's sister, Kaori, has come to try to find her sister. She stays in her Miyuki's apartment, meets her boyfriend (eventually sleeping with him), and works kinda-sorta with a detective to find her. Kaori kind of becomes the central character in the movie, but her character is so flat and uninteresting that it is very difficult to relate with her. She does what she is told, never really fights anything, and is altogether a very weak character easily influenced by the other characters. While throughout most of the movie she is the point of view character, she ironically never shows a point of view herself.
The movie has some downright comical moments with the mother's two helpers and the boyfriend who was the mother's plant as well. Kaori is so ineffectual that it becomes a chore to watch her on screen. Rieko becomes virgin-pregnant with the afterlife itself. (I told you, this movie is freaking weird.) The detective is killed, there is a CGI afterlife light fog thing that kills all the "antagonists" (even though they barely did anything wrong), and... well, I'll get to the ending in a minute.
I just want to say that these four people who wanted to commit suicide wanted to die. Not to be a creepy and crazy person here, but they wanted to die. That's established. So, no, getting semi-tortured and experimented on isn't a good thing, but they wanted to die. So, why should I feel sympathy for them? I guess that's my ultimate point here without getting into any strange euthanasia principles.
Well, the movie ends in a fairly bogus way. I've liked this kind of ending in other movies, but it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the movie here. Yes, it turns out that in the end, Miyuki had probably died in the van with the other four. Although, the original plant in the van had a head wound, which seems suspicious and maybe not altogether a sign of suicide. So, I guess there could have been something there? I have no idea. I simply do not know what was meant by that. The detective is alive again, so that kind of says that nothing past their attempted suicides in the van in the beginning of the movie really happened.
But them Kaori's there at the end. How can she be there when we've actually really never seen the real her in the movie? Are we supposed to feel sympathy for a character we've never known before? I don't know. I figured the whole purpose of this movie was to pit science against nature and show that nature always wins. But no, it isn't. I've seen similar plots in Jacob's Ladder and Stay, done much better and much more effectively. The setup and pay-off in those films actually worked, with the whole premise of those movies being the ability for the character who are dying to come to terms with their lives, their mistakes, their guilt, and their deaths. That makes those movies beautiful, but makes this one a jumble. While it has some of those elements, they're not the focus of the movie.
Yes, there are certainly things that could be interpreted as a death dream. The mother is both antagonistic and a true scientist. She never does anything truly evil even if she is completely unethical. She's portrayed much more as a purveyor of science than as a monster. Which, if Miyuki's memories of her mother is correct, she might very well be cold, distant, and more interested in her work than her family. Kaori is portrayed as weak, ineffectual, and easily manipulated. She sleeps with Miyuki's boyfriend, which could be a critical thought about the two of them. Miyuki was more than likely unhappy with her relationship with both of them, and the interpretation of both of them breaking her trust seems like a reasonable thought for her to have, especially in a depressed and dying state of mind. memories of an old house and her apartment would also fit, being the places she would have remembered very well.
But there are so many things that don't fit with the premise of this being a death-dream. Why the comedic antics of the mother's helpers? Why the Rieko being afterlife pregnant? These elements do not work into the plot very well. I guess that's all I can really say.
I think some people have a pretty vitriolic feeling about this movie. I mostly find it an interesting failure. I liked the beginning and ending, but the middle felt overlong and tiring. It seriously almost put me to sleep. I was nodding off. The CGI was garbage, but the whole afterlife plot was interesting with the ending of the film making some sense even if it was not well set up earlier in the movie. The acting was pretty decent, and the filming of scenes was fine. I didn't really see any big issues with those things.
I didn't like the music, finding it distracting at times. The plot is dense, convoluted, and nonsensical at times. It really needed somebody to come along and say something about it. The tone of the film is everywhere, and I guess I was expecting a much different movie. It was bad per se, but it certainly wasn't good either. It's not scary either, so if you really want a scary movie, this isn't it. Again the comparison to Dreamland holds up pretty well. There are fairly similar problems in both. I think I like that movie more, but only because that one is seriously unique in terms of literally everything about it.
I can't recommend this movie to watch. It is a mess of a film that makes little to no sense at times. It had it's interesting moments, but ultimately fails the coherency test.