Hideo Nakata’s “The Complex” – 2013 NY Asian Film Festival Review

Creepy little boy?  Check.  Mysterious neighbor?  Check.  A haunted – or deranged – young woman?  Check.

Director Hideo Nakata, famous for introducing the world to J-horror films with his breakthrough work “The Ring,” takes these familiar elements and throws them back into the mix in his latest film, “The Complex.”  However, the end product is neither here nor there – it masquerades as a movie about psychological horror before devolving to cheap tricks to frighten its audience at the end.

When we first meet Asuka Ninomiya (Atsuko Maeda), she has just moved into a new apartment in a rundown housing complex with her parents and younger brother.  All seems to be off to a good start: her loving family supports her as she begins nursing school, and she quickly befriends a little boy living in the area.

However, she starts to hear scratching noises from the other side of her bedroom wall, and it soon becomes obvious that there is something foul lurking amongst the neighbors in the community.  Asuka finds help in house cleaner Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya) to battle the physical demons, but there is only so much he can do to help her overcome her own mental ones.

The plot is multi-layered up until the last few scenes, making this an atypical horror film that actually takes time to explore the psyches and backgrounds of its characters instead of killing them off scene by scene.  Although Asuka’s history is revealed sometimes too slowly (and you can guess some major “twists” before their actual occurrences), these small bites of information are key to the film’s suspenseful build-up.  Nakata’s camera angles and shadows in the dark ensure that the viewer stays skittish, but what ultimately disappoints is the low-budget effects at the end of the film, which would have been fine without them.

More surprising than elements of the storyline is the performance of actress Maeda.  Formerly one of the lead members of Japanese girl group phenomenon AKB48, she captivatingly conveys her character’s sense of guilt and isolation through the stillness of her face and the pain in her eyes.  Maeda has transcended the pop performer label with this movie and is poised to establish a credible acting career.