Netflix’s Ju-on: Origins Review: Eerie atmospheric horrors and an unnerving narrative gives the franchise the return to form it needed
Since its first inception with writer/director Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Curse, the Ju-on/The Grudge franchise has been quite a rollercoaster ride. From Shimizu bringing the supernatural franchise to new heights that captured the attention of the horror community with his 2002 modern horror classic Ju-on: The Grudge and even creating an American remake in 2004’s The Grudge that’s decently well regarded to some painful entries like this year’s reboot of the same name, this franchise has certainly seen some highs and lows. However, Netflix and director Sho Miyake have come together to give the series a proper return to form by taking the series back to Japan to uncover the origins of the series’ dreaded curse.
As per usual with this series, the film utilizes non-chronological storytelling to tell the story of a group of people from different points in time that are affected by the curse of a vengeful spirit residing in a house. At the center of all of this is a paranormal investigator named Yasuo Odajima (YoshiYoshi Arakawa) who becomes obsessed with figuring out the curse after he meets an actress named Hakura Honjo (Yuina Kuroshima) who begins to hear noises in her home after her boyfriend Tetsuya (Kai Inowaki) visits the iconic house. As Odajima begins to explore the different tragedies and horrors that have befell all who have entered the house and that have attracted the attention of the mysterious Woman in White (Seiko Iwaido).
Now, although it’s a big staple to this franchise, the non-linear storytelling is still kind of mess. It’s always been a big detractor and generally where most people fall out of this franchise and that’s still the case for me here. It’s not that the story itself is bad or that the small stories within the overall framework of the film, but it’s told in such a confusing and convoluted manner that it’s hard to figure out what the hell is happening at times. For instance, “M” (Tokio Emoto) is briefly teased in the first episode with no clarification and literally doesn’t come into play until three episodes later. Throughout the series, we’re just thrown into the mix of new stories and characters while still trying to figure out what’s happening with Odajima and his investigation.
I will say that once the connections did become clearer thanks to a great timeline breakdown from ScreenRant, there really is a very compelling story about tragedy and brutal vengeance that’s like an entrancing nightmare. However, without this breakdown or having it explained, I’d still be lost in everything that’s going on. Like I said, the story is good here, but it would come off more compelling if it wasn’t such a complex puzzle to figure out. Also, and this is more of a minor complaint, but watching this with subtitles can add to the complexity as some of them run into one another. For instance, when Hakura in on the phone and there a news broadcast happening behind her and the subtitles for both of them are happening at the same time. Sure, I could just put on the English, but it’s certainly not as authentic of an experience.
However, even for the busy storytelling, the performances are excellent – especially from Arakawa and Kuroshima. Arakawa makes Odajima’s growing obsession with the house and stories of people who have lived in it is great. He acts as our guide, essentially, to learning about the horrific stories of the cursed house and there’s a great revelation he has about his own connection to the house that creates an intriguing story thread in the final two episodes. Kuroshima is also great and sort of acts as a foil to Odajima’s obsession with the house. It’s easy to empathize with her fears towards Odajima, the house, and the creepy supernatural elements that are constantly surrounding her. It’s also easy to attach yourself to her because of the eventual tragedy that befalls her and her relationship with Tetsuya is one of the more hopeful elements of this otherwise dark and foreboding series.
Another story that greatly stands out is that of Kimoyi (Ririka) – a new local high school student who experiences a horrific tragedy within the house. Her story is epitome of a haunting tragedy as her innocent youth is robbed of her after classmates have her be raped in the house to “prank” her. From there, we basically see her life go in a downward spiral as she’s forced into an abusive relationship that sends her into a world of slow-building madness. It’s a harsh story with a slightly fulfilling ending and Ririka is at the center of it giving a very vulnerable and strong performance that’s easily the best of this series.
Ju-on: Origins also succeeds in giving the franchise the return to form it needed by playing up the more atmospheric and mind-bending supernatural elements of its ghost story rather than the gore. Miyake definitely makes the right call in not having the series be a gore fest right from the start. Instead, he creates a very eerie experience with glimpses of the Woman in White peeking into the frame throughout, real-life horrors of abuse, infidelity, and murder creating an unsettling nightmare, and time-jumps to horrific moments within this narrative. The first episode perfectly sets up an incredibly eerie ghost story that holds together until Miyake lets the blood spill everywhere in episode four.
For anyone worried that this series wouldn’t continue the series’ trend of delivering gory deaths and horrifying imagery, Miyake doesn’t disappoint. Once you get to episode four, Miyake delivers some of the creepiest and stomach-turning gore and scares I’ve seen in this series. There’s some legitimately skin-crawling horror that’s unparalleled and will definitely stick with you. Not to mention, there’s some great time-jumping moments that are very visually pleasing because of the black and white effect to them as well as some creepy creatures that will have viewers lean away from screen from the first sighting.
Ju-on: Origins gives the franchise the kind of reboot it needed by delivering some horrific scares and storylines with compelling characters and nightmare-inducing visuals. Even for the incredibly busy and overcomplicated storytelling, Miyake and Netflix come with an offering that’ll be pleasing to any fan of franchise and is worth checking out.