Running time: 106 minutes approx
Asuko Ninomayo - Atsuko Maeda
Shinobu Sasahara - Hiroki Narimiya
A young woman studying to be a nurse encounters strange things happening in the apartment building that she and her family have moved into. There are children playing alone and unsupervised in the park. There are sounds she cannot explain. Then she discovers that her neighbour is dead and things start to get seriously strange. Is she being plagued by the dead neighbour? Why are her family acting so strange? Could the cleaner come to take care of the neighbour's apartment know more than he is letting on?
If you want a decent ghost story these days then you need to look to the Japanese for it. Amongst the leading lights of supernatural bumping in the night is director of this film, Hideo Nakata, who also made the superior ghostfests DARK WATER and RING. It's difficult to argue with successes like that, but it's also hard to follow them up without treading over old ground and there is a sense of that happening here, though that is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite apart from the eerieness of the dilapidated apartment complex and the spookiness of discovering a dead neighbour, there are other things going on here, things that might render the whole thing as being in the leading lady's mind. That makes it something of a psychological thriller and meditation on the nature of fractured minds as well as a potential ghost tale.
Of course, this being Japan, there is a spooky kid to deal with as well, though he's less spooky than you might have hoped for.
Nakata has a knack for getting good performances out of his leading ladies and he does so again. Atsuko Maeda is the absolute heart of the film, appearing in most of the scenes and certainly the focus of attention, and she is equal to the task that she is given by her director. Her descent from apparent normality to insanity and back again, or beyond, could have been hysterical nonsense, but she manages to keep things on track and anchors the film's excesses in her own grounded (un)reality. It is through her performance that the film manages to keep the sands shifting under what the audience thinks is going on.
Which is not to say that the rest of the cast don't pull their weight, it's just that they really aren't all that important. Even Sasahara, the young man who tries to help Asuko, is a character whose background is barely sketched in, making some of the later sequences less tense and dramatic.
Surprisingly, Nakata also fumbles the ball at the end. After some supremely spooky sequences and some really atmospheric scene-setting early on, there are moments of exposition that are clumsily shoved into the narrative, jarring the audience out of the moment and leaving us a little confused as to just who is being told what and why. A whole subplot about an exorcist botched to the point where we're not sure what happened to her and the big climatic moment is messed up with some poor makeup effects work.
THE COMPLEX is not terrifying in the way that RING was, but it does have some decent chills in it, some effective spookiness and a particularly fine central performance. That is enough to see it through to the end, its intrigues outweighing its lapses. You won't be terrified, but you certainl won't be bored either.
If you're a fan on J-Horror then it's definitely worth a look. If you like a bit of psychological depth with your scares then that's here too. If you want full-on scary horror then you might want to be looking elsewhere.