31 Days of Hell: Noroi the Curse (2005) - Reviewed

J-horror or modern Japanese horror including but not limited to Ringu, Ju On: The Grudge, Kairo (Pulse) and Audition is something of an ongoing genre which kicked into high-gear in the late-1990s/early 2000s.  A genre unto itself with seemingly no end to the tie-ins and self-replicating duplicates, reception of said genre remains mixed at best with some praising the slow-burn buildups to uncanny scares while others pick at the clichés of long-haired ghost girls or spooky white-faced demons.  Around this time another equally debated subgenre of horror began to reappear in the form of the found-footage film with the success of films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity
Though J-horror and the found-footage film bear their own variety of tropes singling them out as either inspired or run-of-the-mill, around 2005 a Japanese writer-director by the name of Kôji Shiraishi decided to bring the disparate subgenres together to create a new kind of J-horror offering.  The resulting film became known as Noroi or Noroi the Curse in some territories and predates such black magic shamanist horror gems as South Korea’s The Wailing.  As complex as a convoluted film noir, Noroi plays out much like Barry Levinson’s The Bay as a series of clips, news broadcasts, videos and even 16mm film footage at one point, all of which is designed to give credence to the notion of a curse as a palpably real world thing.
An unnamed narrator informs us documentary filmmaker Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki) disappeared without a trace shortly after completing his latest film The Curse but not before a fire engulfs his home claiming his wife’s life.  The narrator warns us the contents of the The Curse are dangerous before said film begins and precluded by a series of various clips Kobayashi’s documentary unspools.  What follows introduces us to a child psychic on a reality TV show who has gone missing, possibly with a freakish young woman who might be demonically possessed before involving another psychic who may hold the key to what’s shaping up to be a most deadly and unstoppable curse including but not limited to dead pigeons, eerie curly loops tied together like ponytails and mysterious face masks that will make the likes of Gerald Scarfe shudder.

Considered by many to be among the scariest found footage J-horror hybrids ever made, Noroi is a slow, deceptive burn of a spooker with images and sounds that sear themselves into the psyche which don’t necessarily frighten at first but burrow to haunt your sleep later.  Prominently featuring what is easily the scariest medium depicted on film since The Changeling, the tin-foil covered vagrant looking psychic Mitsuo Hori (Satoru Jitsunashi) with walls decorated in foil and unearthly drawings twitches and convulses as he receives new premonitory visions punctuated by shrill screams about “ectoplasmic worms”.  Even when the film veers dangerously close to debatably silly territory, the psychic comes back into the foray to scare the ever living shit out of us.
Though labyrinthine in form with confusing logistics that are easy to lose our grip on, Noroi the Curse is the kind of found footage horror film that evokes the feeling of being in the middle of an implacable spider’s web slowly closing in around us before we realize it is already too late.  Because we’re told outright the filmmaker capturing all of this has vanished, part of the horror comes from finding out just what took over a small Japanese village and the inhabitants foraging for survival.  Much like the aforementioned The Wailing, the small town takes on the characteristics of an unholy altar beyond redemption as more and more pigeons fly themselves to their deaths and people randomly become possessed mid-sentence.
For years the film was almost impossible to see outside of Japan without straight up bootlegging the picture.  Despite being one of the most talked about found-footage horror films of all time, getting to actually see it was next to not at all.  Frequently uploaded to YouTube before copyright strikes promptly booted the film off of the platform, the 2005 found-footage J-horror cult classic remained in distribution limbo in the United States until the streaming service Shudder finally picked the film up in March 2020.  Though Kôji Shiraishi later became known for his violence filled Grotesque before himself partaking in the ultimate in J-horror silliness with Sadako vs. Kayako, Noroi the Curse nonetheless remains an inspired offering which may or may not make your hair stand on end while watching but will inevitably come to haunt your dreams.

--Andrew Kotwicki