Originally conceived as a manga graphic novel by Junji Ito, the new Japanese horror film Uzumaki doesn't survive the cinematic translation. Those expecting another meta-thriller like Hideo Nakata's popular Ring series and Kiyoski Kurosawa's Cure may find some haunting, Escher-like visuals and an appropriately disturbing apocalypse-bop finale, but this directorial debut from music video show-off Higuchinsky is all flash. Inattentive to genre basics like mood, suspense, creepy lighting (as opposed to boy band lighting), and character development, Uzumaki works on the level of visceral sideshow thrills: watch the snail people climb up a wall, see the human contortionist twist his body into a pretzel, see the hospital-bound grieving widow slice off her fingertips before doing battle with an insect predator. If it weren't cursed with the Charlie's Angels-short attention span video-trained directors have been bombarding us with, Uzumaki might be commended for its spate of bedazzling creature effects.

Anything goes in Asian horror, using basic plot scenarios to tap into feverish nightmare set pieces. Possessed by a bizarre supernatural force, the residents of a small seaside village become obsessive over spiral shapes and snail shells. A schoolgirl weaves her hair into a Medusa pattern, other children start taking on the characteristics of amphibian creatures, and there are a series of cult-induced suicides. Amidst this slow building carnage are a young couple (Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan) who consider eloping, but their Scooby Doo curiosity gets the best of them and they attempt to solve the mystery. All the makings of a first rate creepshow are there (consider John Carpenter's terrific In the Mouth of Madness as the American version), but Higuchinsky hasn't seen enough surrealist-nightmare Dario Argento movies and it quickly devolves into the attention-grabbing camera tricks that similarly undermined Michel Gondry's Human Nature. Unable to sustain mood, they go for high concept designs that might work in a three-minute video but grow quickly tiresome in a full-length feature.

Continue reading: Uzumaki Review