The Complex really just took a bunch of elements from multiple genres, psychological mystery, drama, horror, and anything else you can think of and tossed them in together. This is rarely a recipe for a good movie and The Complex is no exception. Slow moving, a 50 minute first act is just a bit much, too many main story lines and long drawn out scenes for no reason all contribute to making this not a scary movie. It is interesting in some regards as you want to know how the stories conclude, but once they do you’ll probably wish it had been left a mystery. I wish I could say better of it, but The Complex is probably not worth watching unless you enjoy Japanese horror movies a lot, horror movies in general a lot, or if you’re curious how I could write this much about a movie I really didn’t like all that well. – 2.9/5 (genre)
I began the evening with the full intention of watching Cinderella (the Korean horror movie not the Disney movie), but the version I had access to’s video quality was so poor I couldn’t even make out the actor’s faces. And with that actually being an important aspect of the movie, I moved on to the next in line to watch, The Complex. I think it would be fair to say that The Complex itself has a complex, or at the very least an identity crisis. The movie moves back and forth from one genre to another so abruptly it almost seems seamless, but in the end just causes a great deal of disinterest as the multiple story line issues conclude in sudden fashion throughout the movie, and some are never resolved at all.
The first act, which is usually about the the first 15 to 20 minutes for a movie of this length, takes about the first 50 minutes and honestly left wondering where they could possibly go with this. Turns out that was a fair question. Asuka Ninomiya (Atsuko Maeda) is a nursing student who moves into the Kuroyuri apartment complex with her family. She is eventually informed that the complex is supposedly haunted by a fellow student but didn’t know this when she moved in. The intro portion takes place during the families move in and weirdly switches between third person and first person from Asuka’s perspective as she interacts with her family. This just really struck me as odd as it felt very forced and like we were supposed to gain some insight into what was coming from it. As it turns out, having now finished the movie I wasn’t far off, it just happened to be one element of a multi-element plot line.
After they move in Asuka hears a strange scraping noise coming from the apartment next to them through her wall, and the alarm in said apartment keeps going off at around 5:30 am everyday. She brings this up to her parents who take little notice as they sit at the table for breakfast, and in fact they repeat the same dialogue each morning which Asuka points out but they take no notice of that either. In the mean time, Asuka meets and befriends a young boy playing alone in the complex, Minoru (Sosei Tanaka) to whom at one point she reveals that she hates herself though the reasoning is completely unclear at that point. But Minoru says he likes her and wants to be friends with her. Asuka eventually, by entering the apartment next door without the consent of the owner, she just walked in (does no one lock their doors in this complex?) finds an old man dead who had been scratching at the wall adjacent to her bedroom. There’s your scratching noise, which was kind of expected. When the cleaners come to clean up the apartment after the police have finished Asuka meets Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya), a cleaner who has great depth and insight into the dead and how time stops for them but keeps going for the living. Oh, and tells her not to interact with the dead, which seems like pretty solid advice but have you ever noticed that no one ever in the history of movies has taken this advice? If they’d just not talk with the dead they wouldn’t have these problems. It makes it hard to blame the dead when we’re the ones who keep trouncing all over their dead lives.
That completes the trifecta of story lines that will unfold throughout the course of the movie, and this is what causes the massive identity crisis. If you’ve seen any Japanese horror movies at all before (even the US remakes) you know Minoru is the big bad and yet his role is trivial for most of the movie. We start out with Asuka coming to terms with her family (which she never does), the old man haunting her and telling her she’s going to to die, and then finally Minoru and what he’s all about.
It’s not a huge stretch to figure out what happened to her family, and the old man is actually not angry with her it seems but quite grateful for finding him. And that sums up the first hour and fifteen minutes of The Complex. It’s not really a horror movie at all during this phase, it’s definitely a psychological drama which would have been great if the other elements had been dumped and it just stuck with that, but it didn’t. There are a few jump scares sprinkled throughout this whole section, but mostly the movie makes the attempt to build tension and fear by suggesting what is going to happen (things jumping out and being scary) but then they never do. It’s an interesting tactic as it doesn’t give us the down we’re used to after the keyed up moments and instead keeps us at a more heightened state. I really liked that aspect and wish it had been used to more effect, unfortunately when the movie shifts gears there’s no resolution to that feeling, just a continual drop off without anymore build up. A very lost opportunity.
So what does Minoru have to do with any of this? Honestly, nothing. The mystery of Asuka’s family is 100% not related to him at all. The old man is really only tangentially related in that he was trying to warn Asuka by clawing at his wall. Seems answering the door the first time she knocked would have been a better way of going about that. Minoru is where the movie moves into it’s fourth (counting the intro portion) and final part, and also where every horror movie trope from Japanese horror and Hollywood horror is thrown at us. The spirit that died horribly and is angry and wants revenge, or at least a “friend” to spend all eternity reliving his last moments with. There’s a spiritual adviser that Sasahara brings to meet with Asuka who then moves to exercising the evil spirit from Asuka’s mind. At one point during the exorcism she gets the ritual turned back on her by Minoru and begins to cough up blood, and then we never see her again, like at all. We don’t even know if he stopped before killing her or if she died, or if she got tired of fighting spirits and decided she needed to do some traveling of the world. An annoying story hole that I’m sure most people could live with but I find extra irritating.
The ending is beyond stereotypical for this type of movie. Minoru captures one of them and traps them in his world to relive his death, one of them gets away but is trapped in their own mind. Both of these elements have been used repeatedly in horror movies, and even outside the genre, but typically not together. But I guess when you’re already chucking all the left overs of other horror movies into the pot you might as well toss those in as well, stir over heat and see what comes out. This is the basic take away from The Complex, it’s every typical horror movie element which somehow makes it none of them, and not in a good way. Let’s just leave it at there’s no payoff in the ending.
The acting is rather solid despite what was obviously a not well thought out script. The three mains (Asuka, Sasahara, Minoru) are all done well and are believable characters even if a little extreme at times. In fact, somehow Minoru (the evil one mind you) seems to be the most normal of all of them. How’s that now? There are long awkward pauses as characters just stare at each other, or at things, or just stare of into nothing. Sometimes there are moments when there is nothing happening except for people being on the screen, but no actions or words are forthcoming, and it’s a bit obvious this movie could have stood some more serious editing, cutting out at least 15 minutes of run time. I never found the actions of the characters to be unbelievable or overly ridiculous as they sometimes are in horror movies, and only one scene is really worthy of yelling at the screen why would you do that? That happens to be when Asuka enters the apartment next door uninvited even after all the odd things that have happened. I suppose the other thing that struck me as odd is that no one seemed to lock their doors and liked to just leave them wide open as they went out and about.
The flow of the movie was actually pretty good as far as cohesiveness and sensibility (it could be followed without much confusion). I know I said that it changes gears abruptly, and it does, but it does it so frequently that it becomes the norm and we expect it to happen and so it doesn’t really slow down the movie or make it confusing. In fact if they had slowed down the movie events anymore I probably would have fallen asleep before they got to the next scene. Point and case, the creepy old man, dead I might add, shambling towards Asuka is literally shambling at almost negative speeds. The loud music and Asuka’s screams as he moves slower than the snails outside on the sidewalk does not add to any tension or fear, it just makes for a very annoying scene which in the end played no part of significance anyway.
The Complex really just took a bunch of elements from multiple genres, psychological mystery, drama, horror, and anything else you can think of and tossed them in together. This is rarely a recipe for a good movie and The Complex is no exception. Slow moving, a 50 minute first act is just a bit much, too many main story lines and long drawn out scenes for no reason all contribute to making this not a scary movie. It is interesting in some regards as you want to know how the stories conclude, but once they do you’ll probably wish it had been left a mystery. I wish I could say better of it, but The Complex is probably not worth watching unless you enjoy Japanese horror movies a lot, horror movies in general a lot, or if you’re curious how I could write this much about a movie I really didn’t like all that well.
Overall: 2.9/5 (genre)