Spirals are everywhere, from the infinitely small chains of DNA that make up your body, to the unfathomable largeness of the Milky Way, to the mundaneness of a flushing toilet. A day doesn’t go by where you don’t interact with them on some level. Put simply, you could not live your life without the spiral. What if they suddenly decided that they didn’t want you to go on with your life?
This concept was brought to life by Ito Junji, a sort of modern H.P. Lovecraft, who writes stories for Japanese comic books. Ito’s creation eventually developed into the movie “Uzumaki,” committed to film by first time feature director Higuchinsky, the Japanese equivalent of Spike Jonze. In 1998 the brilliantly done minimalist horror film “The Ring” was released in Japan, it was a monster success and brought with it a resurgence of horror films to the country. “Uzumaki” or Spiral is one of the films created during this new wave. While not as effectively creepy as “The Ring,” it undoubtedly deserves to be watched, as it is at the apex of that wave.
Those of you that don’t appreciate weird films tread no further. “Uzumaki” is the sword-swallowing, albino, bearded lady, in the carnival side-show of David Lynch’s mind. (Perhaps not quite that bizarre, but I couldn’t let go of the euphemism.) A previously normal father video tapes a snail’s shell for hours on end. School children line their halls, standing at attention for unknown reasons. A girl skips merrily in the park, and then like God hit the rewind button, she does it backwards. A boy shows up to school only on days when it’s raining, he’s covered in slime, his back pulsating beneath his shirt. All of these events are just the beginning, things grow far stranger from here.
Kirie, a schoolgirl, (Who else would be our hero in a manga based film?) and her boyfriend Shuichi, played by the Japanese Crispin Glover, are the only ones cognizant of the nightmare encompassing their small town. “Our town is cursed by the spiral,” notices Shuichi. He’s got the right idea too, get the hell out of Dodge. Of course they don’t do the smart thing and leave. We wouldn’t have a film, if our duo didn’t stick around and try to unravel this mystery.
Things go from weird to the suicidally grotesque, when Shuichi’s father’s obsession ascends from the guiltlessly odd hobby of taping snails and collecting every spiral he finds, to subjecting himself to the washing machine’s spin cycle, turning himself into a human spiral. (The most memorable death aftermath I’ve ever seen on film.) It’s a spiral “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” as the whole town is either adapting the spiral into their lives with drastic measures or dying some gruesome spiral based death. There is no rhyme or reason as to why any of it is happening.
The greatest movie fear is that of the unknown; something this film has in spades. We are never given the whole story, left to fill in most of the blanks ourselves. Your imagination will likely hatch a far scarier monster, than something the filmmakers could reveal in act three. What we are treated to is an incredible sense of dread, that this spiral madness may not stop with this town, it might grow to be a world epidemic. (I’m sure Uzumaki 2 is on the way.)
There are a few jump in your seat moments, and it wouldn’t be a proper horror film without that staple. Mostly the film creates an infectious feeling of apprehension that slowly crawls up your spine. The wonderfully creepy sound design and the what’s-not-there cinematography do most of the work. The effects are cheesy, yet at the same time impressive and effective, and are still a joy to watch in this digital age. With the atmosphere of terror the filmmakers have created, the obviously CG spirals following the characters through the shadows actually seem frightening. (Something that CG has never done for this reviewer before.)
Released in Japan in 2000, “Uzumaki” is receiving a well deserved American festival run, before it’s destined to be forever forgotten by American audiences. Unfortunately, this horror gem won’t even receive the same fate as a crappy “Children of the Corn” sequel, that of ending up on the back shelf of the local Blockbuster. This all but guarantees, that some kid won’t accidentally come upon it and scare the crap out of himself. And that’s just sad.