Don’t Look Up is the latest in a long line of remakes of Asian horror films – in this case Hideo Nakata’s Joyû-rei – and like many of those remakes, it falls short in many ways, ending up a sometimes frightening, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately jumbled mess.
Having never seen Joyû-rei, I can’t compare the two, but it is interesting to see some of themes I’ve noticed in Nakata’s other works come through in this version despite it being directed by someone else. For those of you unfamiliar with Nakata, he directed Ringu, the movie on which The Ring was based, and once again the theme seems to be the power that moving images have to spread evil.
Once upon a time a young Gypsy woman longed for a better life. In desperation, she turned to the Gypsy devil, Beng, and struck a bargain: Beng would give her dominion over the most powerful man in Romania in exchange for the daughter she would bear in the future. Years later the inhabitants of a small village killed the daughter, and legend has it that her ghost still haunts the place, exacting revenge on any that cross her path. Over time the legend grew, and in the Twenties a young director tried to retell the story on film, only to fall victim himself.
His movie became a legend in its own right, lost except for one small scene, and telling the story of the Gypsy curse falls to Marcus Reed, a former directing wunderkind looking to make his comeback. Soon his set becomes plagued by swarms of flies, violent outbursts by the crew, and the wailing of a young woman that only Reed can hear. Is Reed going insane or is the curse striking again?
One aspect I particularly liked about the movie was the music. I don’t typically talk about the soundtrack for a film, but Don’t Look Back had a classic sound that reminded me a bit of the old Universal monster movies. The music added a sense of gravity and an almost timeless feel that suited the Romanian setting.
Overall, Don’t Look Back has some good moments. The director, Fruit Chan, does a good job of creating a dark, spooky atmosphere, and there are definitely some disturbing images, but it doesn’t come together in a satisfying way. The movie suffers from sloppy storytelling and is ambiguous to a fault. I’ve had days to think about the plot and I’m still not sure what was going on. I’d go into more detail, but much of the ambiguity centers on the climax and resolution, and I don’t want to give anything away to those that haven’t seen the movie. There are times when a movie can transcend plot holes and logical inconsistencies, but this isn’t one of those.
The movie is presented fullscreen in 16×9 aspect ratio with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. There is only an English language track and English subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired. In terms of quality, the movie looked fine. The sound was terrible, though. The dialogue track was so low that I had to turn on the subtitles to understand what people were saying, and to compound the problem, the sound effects and music were far too loud that I couldn’t turn up the volume out of fear of the soundtrack jumping up about ten decibels and shattering my eardrums.
The special features are rather bland and generic. There were a few interesting parts about adapting the film from the original, but those parts really don’t make the extras worth watching.
Making of Featurette
Don’t Look Up had promise, but for whatever reason it just didn’t come together successfully. I love Asian horror films, and it’s always interesting to see how they become adapted for Western audiences. Fans of the original may want to check out this version for curiosity’s sake, but otherwise I’d give it a pass. Mildly recommended.
Distant Horizon presents Don’t Look Up. Directed by Fruit Chan. Starring Reshad Strik, Henry Thomas, Carmen Chaplin, Kevin Corrigan, Daniela Sea, Zelda Williams, Eli Roth, and Lothaire Bluteau. Written by Brian Cox. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: July 27, 2010.