The title is a lie. A damn lie I tell you! The shoes aren’t red, they’re FUCHSIA. Don’t ask me how I even know that color’s name; I think I read it in a magazine that was describing Juliette Lewis’ hair in Strange Days. But know it I do and besides, there is no mistaking red for that light purpley color. I’m thinking that this is either a mistranslation or some weird cultural thing.
Red Shoes is based in small part on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and in large part on every J-horror movie that’s ever been written since The Ring, which is where we run into a problem. It just feels like a copy, not a bad copy necessarily, but a copy nonetheless. Still, Shoes has a lot going for it. The opening scenes are incredibly effective and nasty; and the film does have some insightful things to say about female vanity and possessiveness. It’s a start anyway.
We open on a subway platform where a Japanese schoolgirl finds two FUCHSIA shoes and proceeds to greedily covet them. Her friend walks up next to her and demands that she give her the shoes, like right now. And you can bet that the second girl isn’t saying please. A fight ensues, the second girl runs off with her new treasure and one double foot amputation later we realize that there’s something funkier about these shoes than the fuzzy color. After the nastiness in the subway we’re introduced to a housewife whose loutish boor of a husband and spoiled rotten daughter make her feel useless and unappreciated. It doesn’t take long to discover that her husband is sleeping around, but to be honest I can’t blame him. The wife walks around with a perpetual whipped dog _expression of someone who thinks she’s a freaking saint for letting people walk all over her. Get over it lady! The only place for a martyr is on a cross and I got a hammer and some nails in my drawer.
Here’s where we hit another brick wall real hard. The characters, save for the wife’s love interest later on, are less interesting than the shoes. In fact, I was rooting for the damned footwear. The daughter’s a screeching brat, and little girl or not this kid would have discovered what makes Mr. Hand turn into Mr. Fist in about five minutes around me. As for the woman, she’s a boring mess of near hysterics and insecurity who looks as if she’s constantly on the verge of screaming. No wonder her husband ran off far away after the divorce. I would have changed my name and gotten reconstructive surgery if I was him. When wifey finds the shoes on the subway I was giggling in anticipation.
Oh, and can we please try and scare me using a different technique? Droning music then five to ten seconds of silence and then a loud orchestral sting is NOT frightening after the sixth or seventh time. I even noticed that the longer the pause the scarier the reveal was supposed to be. AND while we’re on the subject of music, no film since 1932 has used organ music to score a serious scene. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but it just doesn’t work.
However, for all my complaining, I thought Shoes had plenty of positive attributes. To be totally fair, the film does have a nice buildup and provides more than one unexpected mystery and twist along the way. What the shoes are and how they fit into the housewife’s life is well thought out and put forward. You can’t fault the film for now having vision or aiming high. And when it comes to the wet stuff, it channels the best of Argento in an R-rated kind of way. I dug that.
Not the best J-horror you’re likely to see, but if you’ve seen all the Ringus, Ju-ons, Kairos and Dark Waters, then this could be a nice little addition to that list. You won’t be wowed, but neither will you be cursing my name for having suggested it. So if you’ve got a few bucks and it happens to be at your rental place, go for it. Just try pretending that the movie’s called Fuchsia Shoes, it’ll make more sense that way.