Furiously successful yet so ridiculous, the “Saw” series should become a source of disgust for horror fans. As inept as other franchises may be – we get more scares thinking of what classics the studios will remake next – “Saw” exploits an already exploitive genre. True horror narratives create dread through mood, clever storytelling, and characters whose motivations fall in line with a story’s predicaments. But the “Saws” thrust a victim into a set piece, in which death/gore is a rapidly descending weight above the head. (Even Poe’s slower pendulum demands more character development than these scenarios can muster.) Time runs out and life splatters, or trump cards are drawn to save lives and string along a paper-thin narrative. The “Saw” device owes more to the reality series “Fear Factor” – with its revolting, demeaning stunts performed under a ticking clock – than it does to any horror film tradition.
So what could be scarier than a foreign film modeled on this critic-proof debacle? Alas, the film “Wicked Flowers” attempts to dress up an uninspired premise with Japanese touches. Producers across the seas apparently hold no qualms about aiming for the lowest common denominator in their teen audience. Face it, America: mea culpa.
This Japanese take on “Saw” incorporates a “life or death” game in a remote building. After encountering an online ad for a “free game,” a lazy, unemployed young adult travels to the location for some fun. But after he accepts his host’s offering of tea and a biscuit, he learns that he has been poisoned and must solve an extended puzzle to prevent his death. The game takes him from room to room, where women in traditional Japanese theatrical dress (masks and all) hold him at gunpoint as others reveal messages to be decoded. Since the information makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, the viewer must settle to suspend disbelief while the script moves onward in unabashed convenience.
The youth encounters other opponents in different rooms – those who drop off have ingested the poison before him. A ticking clock becomes this film’s only means for creating suspense. Other competitors croak, and more nonsense messages come from bizarre performers. But we couldn’t care less: we know less about the random players than we do about the functions of the “deathgame.”
“Wicked Flowers” aims to comment on phobias of the electronic age – our main contestant appears to be a videogame addict from a culture in fear of the effects of gaming and internet addiction. As he finally puts his brain to use to solve the mysterious puzzle, the film strains to integrate guilt as its theme. And a didactic comment on indolence eventually comes like a blow to the viewer’s head – the plot turn is either telegraphed or ludicrous: take your pick.