Movie Review

‘Stare’ Attempts to Reinvent J-Horror for 2019 (Fantasia 2019)

Hirotaka Adachi’s Stare opens as any good J-horror should: with an unseen evil and an explosion of blood. Stare takes the concept of a curse used to such excellent effect in Ringu and Ju-on, and transposes it to a scary story and the name of a woman “with abnormally large eyes” (I have a feeling that the phrase is more euphonic in Japanese than in the English translation). It’s a game attempt to revive international interest in J-horror that, in large part, succeeds.

Stare begins with two young women telling scary stories over lunch. One chances to look out the window and recoils in fear. Collapsing to the floor, she convulses until her eyes explode. The doctors deem it a heart attack, but her friend, Mizuki, suspects there’s something more insidious at its base. She eventually coming across Haruo, whose brother died in the same way. Their investigation eventually leads them to Eiko, who tells them that she, Mizuki, and Haruo were all present at the telling of a scary story by another man, who has now gone missing. The storycenters around a man being followed by a woman with huge eyes, who claims she knows him. When he asks her name, she tells him that all who know her name must die. As Mizuki and Haruo attempt to discover how to break the curse and stop it from spreading, they also become involved.

Stare is definitely a slow-burn, taking the time to set up the monster and the rules that govern her as the central characters discover it for themselves. There are moments of genuine horror (including one or two effective jump scares), relying more on the creepy than on the shocking. The concept of a scary story that effectively curses its listeners is an intriguing trope, and Stare updates the idea to mesh with a contemporary world of cell phones and computers. The slow-burn nature of the film, however, sometimes gives way to a meandering narrative that fails to create effective tension. The monster is introduced fairly early, and it doesn’t take long for Mizuki and Haruo to trace the deaths to the source. But the film elides over the monster’s origins, to a degree, confusing details of the rules, and even changing them late in the game. Stare at times suffers from too much exposition, as the characters stop to explain the nature of the curse to each other and bring the audience up to speed.

Stare does contain undercurrents involving memory and the willingness to look away from the horrible and horrific. The promulgation of evil relies on knowledge—hearing the story and knowing the woman’s name—and once knowledge is acquired, it cannot be undone. As Mizuki and Haruo attempt to parse out the nature of the curse and how to break it, they create further layers of memory, both collective and individual. Knowledge of evil allows it to spread, and the sharing of the knowledge at once dissipates it and also endangers the hearers.

The complexity of this element of the film means that it doesn’t entirely follow through on the theme, instead opting for closer focus on the image of the monster herself. But it’s an intriguing theme that elevates Stare from a straight-forward horror film into a more potent exploration of collective and individual memory. Stare has all the makings of an excellent J-horror, even if it does drag in places and reinvents its own rules too many times. It may ultimately only pay off as a minor entry into the genre, but it’s an entertaining one all the same.

Stare appeared at Fantasia 2019.

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