Hideo Nakata is somewhat of a legend, at the very least within the horror genre. He started working on (horror) films in the 90s and in 1998 brought us Ringu, later remade in Hollywood as The Ring. Everyone has at least heard of these films, their sequels, and the accompanying label ‘J-horror’. J-horror as a subgenre truly blossomed in the following years, including other contributions from Nakata such as Dark Water. In the last few years, however, the surge in J-horror has seemingly died down back to the pre-Nakata baseline, with Nakata himself trying his hand at varying genres overseas. However, in 2013, with his new film The Complex he has supposedly returned back to his roots, to perhaps breathe some life back into the J-horror genre.
‘The Complex’ refers to an apartment complex where Asuka moves into with her parents and younger brother, a cheerful and happy family. When Asuka tries to greet their new neighbors they refuse to answer. In the following nights she keeps hearing strange noises coming from the house next door. On top of that an alarm keeps going off at 5:30am every morning, leading Asuka to head over and complain. Still nobody answers but the door is open and Asuka goes in finding the place seemingly deserted. She reaches the room that shares a wall with her bedroom and finds the dead body of an old man. There are scratches on the wall and his body is still stuck in scratching-position, making for a horrifying sight. The body is taken away but it isn’t long until the nightly scratching returns…
We are now only about half an hour in but I actually cannot say much more about the plot itself because there are some major twists and turns that are better left unspoiled. As a psychic in the film says “Ghosts don’t haunt places, they haunt people’s minds”, indicating the fact that what first seems like a physical horror film actually has a lot of psychological themes included as well. Some other major characters in the rest of the film are Sasahara and Minoru. Sasahara is a guy with the cleaning crew cleaning out the dead old man’s apartment. His girlfriend has been in a coma after a car accident that occurred while he was driving and he has been feeling guilty ever since. Minoru is a little boy, around the same age as Asuka’s little brother. She occasionally runs into him playing by himself in front of the apartment building and befriends him, he says he lives with his grandfather who isn’t actually his grandfather somewhere in the vicinity. Although the average horror fanatic might think he’s seen through the entire plot already at this point, he would be sadly mistaken. As I said, there are a lot of twists and turns, and although not all of them are amazingly original in retrospect, it does help keep the film interesting as you go along.
So is this another J-horror masterpiece by Nakata? My first answer would sadly be ‘no’. While it is surely an enjoyable film from start to finish, it is not without its flaws, both plot-wise and technically. The occasional minor plot hole and/or inconsistency does occur, and the acting isn’t always up to par (although some of that might have been intentional). In any case it is also somewhat of a difficult film to place, because despite being a J-horror by definition, it often felt like just another Hollywood horror of which we’ve perhaps seen too many in the past decade. This makes sense since Nakata has spent a whole lot of his time in Hollywood, but luckily his roots are still visible as well. Unlike Hollywood horror, this film isn’t packed with volume-up-to-max jump-scares, but instead is for the most part brooding and atmospheric. The sound design and music by Kenji Kawai play a large part in this and in my opinion this is one of the film’s strong suits. Cinematographically it is definitely more Hollywood, aside from some weird lighting happening near the end which suddenly made it feel more campy than it should have. But I actually should not get too caught up in the Hollywood-Japan comparison, since, like Nakata, the film is both. Just as it is both a physical and psychological horror film. The Complex is a hybrid horror film. Unfortunately not completely the best of both worlds, but one might say close enough. Japan nowadays lacks decent straight-forward horror films and this is just that, decent.