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Fatal Frame Zero - a gothic masterpiece

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing a girl in her nightie sitting on the floor in a creepy moonlit room while staring at a candlelit altar with a photo of another girl upon it

My primary introduction to the horror genre was through films made in the west. You know, a bunch of teenagers partying in a remote cabin in the woods. Need I go on? This, peppered with the memorable films that everybody knows, such as Amityville (and its dozen sequels), Poltergeist (and lots of sequels), The Shining, and that one with the tall bald bloke and those lethal shiny spheres (Phantasm?). Oh, and throw in anything ever made by David Cronenberg.
But somehow I found the horror to be, well, lacking. I'd watch the films when they were on but the big game would be to spot continuity flaws, microphones at the end of the frame, or to try to work out in which order the assorted sex-obsessed teenagers would die. You could usually root for "the cute nerdy one" as the geek-with-glasses tends to make it to the end credits. The level of horniness of the other characters usually determines in which order they will die.

Screen capture from The Grudge 2 showing stringy haired ghost girl being menacing.Then I discovered something. Asian "horror". I say Asian rather than Japanese because one of my favourite creepy Asian films is A Tale Of Two Sisters which is Korean, and was remade more recently as The Uninvited. There is also The Grudge (original, not the remake), Dark Water (original, not the remake) and One Missed Call (original, not the remake) to enjoy, so long as you avoid sequels which are too "samey" and stay far clear of the lacklustre remakes. The Ring would have been a good film, but I think stringy haired ghost girl had been getting too much exposure by then. I'm sorry, it might be a historical thing that scares the crap out of Japanese people, but I've seen that awkward women crawling up and down walls so much now that if she crawled out of a crack in my ceiling I'd be inclined to reach for the shampoo and tell her that being dead is no excuse for letting her hair get like that. Which, incidentally, I have absolutely no idea how to say in Japanese, so she'd better go haunt somebody else...

Now, while both sides of the Atlantic can use jump cuts and bloodshed (as Tokyo Gore Police would amply demonstrate (hint, there's a clue in the title)), the better Asian horror films don't go in for this "person dies every five minutes" rubbish. Yes, people die, but they often die in more psychological ways and the atmosphere of the film builds and builds, slowly, determinedly. In Pulse (original, not remake), people died of loneliness, aided by ghosts. A haunted loneliness that came and got you. And when I say people, I mean the everybody. Murdered by loneliness. That is just so much more epic that some redneck with a chainsaw and/or a banjo.

Which brings us to Fatal Frame Zero, or Gekijōban Rei (Zero). There is not one single jump cut in the entire movie. There is no gore. No blood. Nothing like that. It, instead, focuses on a story the almost makes sense (the backstory does, but in Japan it seems that curses can take on a life of their own - this is what The Grudge was about as well). It also focuses on atmosphere and does such an amazing job of this that I'd be inclined to rate this as my favourite non-animé Japanese film in recent years. There are lingering shots of mundane things - somebody doing their makeup, girls planting vegetables, and even these well lit daytime scenes are creepy thanks to the general vibe of this film.

The film is set in a Catholic Girl's boarding school and it peripherally covers lesbian relationships between the girls, something that was not accepted in the older Japanese society of yesteryear, and something that absolutely would not be accepted by the religious underpinning of the school itself. So one could say this is a story of unrequited love, and how horribly awry it could go, to the point of being a cursed existence. And this is where the gothic fantasy elements come to the front. TVTropes describes gothic horror as it tends to play on both the thrill and the fear of the unknown, and places a great importance on atmosphere. It's usually heavily symbolic, sometimes even dreamlike all of which could describe much of this film.

A student at the school must try to find out why there are mysterious disappearances and deaths of her classmates, after they have each encountered a haunting photograph of the head girl, who is herself locked in her room (by her own doing). What is going on? Well, that's what the film is about.

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing two girls in school uniform on a bridge, and even in daylight it manages to be spooky.

The lead actress Ayami Nakajō is wonderful in this part. Not only does she have the whole dead eyes thing nailed, she is tall (1.7m according to IMDb, taller than me even!) so she contrasts with the other (shorter) characters which helps to give her this ethereal vibe even when she's just walking alongside somebody.

Then, we come to some stand-out memorable scenes. I will describe two, so as not to give spoilers. The first, I'm just going to give you two pictures and say that, yes, she walks across the pond. Literally. It is absolutely lovely, the timing, the photography, the surrealness of it all.

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing a girl in school uniform walking on a pond. And I mean 'on'.

That picture is the stuff that promotional posters are made of.

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing the pond-walking girl kneeling down to another girl who is in the water up to her chest.

Then we come to this sequence. I absolutely could not do it justice, it needs to be seen. Suffice to say that the soundtrack made me think of Dario Argento and the entire staging left me speechless. Looking back, it seems such a simple scene, but in its place it was suitably powerful and effective.

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing one girl reaching out to another with the bodies of several others scattered on the floor around them.

If I had to level two criticisms at the film, they would be:

Firstly, not a fault of the film itself. The copy I watched come with subtitles that were translated into English via Chinese. Anybody who has ever bought Chinese imports will be aware that the documentation is frequently varying degrees of incomprehensible. One of the lines from the end song reads "Trying to forget their own to hold the beverage giant ta ki shi circular". From the film itself "Ah, I can make a tree a few months to help me painted nails it". It would be lovely if this film gets a proper western release (and it is so on my to-buy list!), subtitling is fine, I don't need dubbage, however this may be less likely as - guess what - a remake is in the offing. Ugh.

The second criticism is that Fatal Frame (the game - called Project Zero in Europe and I review it here) is a survival horror. You are aided in this by a device referred to as a Camera Obscura (it technically isn't, but the name sounds cool so we'll go with it). This special camera can allow you not only to see ghosts, but also to capture them with rolls of ... I dunno ... ghost capturing film. After all, it is practically your only weapon worth a damn.
In the film, the camera plays a part and a sort of Camera Obscura does crop up - in the hands of a young boy - but that is about as far as it goes. That isn't to say that this is a bad thing, I don't know that it would have made much sense in the film, however it was one of the primary devices in the game (as in, use it well or die horribly) so it perhaps deserved to have been referenced better? I don't know, that's just my opinion. ☺

Screen capture from Fatal Frame showing the two lead characters, not in that creepy school uniform (for a change).

If this should ever see a release on this side of the world (and at a sensible price not "double 'cos it's an import"), this will absolutely be on my "must buy" list. The staging, the atmosphere, the encompassing way the story is told, I really like it. But I'm sure you guessed that by now.

One final thing - don't watch the spoilerific promotional video on YouTube...



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Please note that while I check this page every so often, I am not able to control what users write; therefore I disclaim all liability for unpleasant and/or infringing and/or defamatory material. Undesired content will be removed as soon as it is noticed. By leaving a comment, you agree not to post material that is illegal or in bad taste, and you should be aware that the time and your IP address are both recorded, should it be necessary to find out who you are. Oh, and don't bother trying to inline HTML. I'm not that stupid! ☺ ADDING COMMENTS DOES NOT WORK IF READING TRANSLATED VERSIONS.
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julie, 9th September 2016, 00:49
Dr Brian Neil Talarico North Bay Has been convicted of child molestation, an possession of child pornography on his computer. Sexually molesting a young boy. He had prior convictions for child molestation in 1990 and 2001. After his parole in 2006. Dr. Talarico Brian. Works for north east mental health centre, despite his background, and numerous complaints against him of abuse, fraud, negligence, and imprisonment. Address: North East Mental Health Centre, North Bay Campus Highway 11 North, North Bay Ontario P1B 8L1, and now works for Act 2, North Bay.
Rick, 4th March 2017, 19:17
And that, my dear, has NOTHING to do with a Japanese film. You're just a cheap troll whoring yourself out to whoever will pay you to drop your haphazard insults onto other people's blogs.
Brian, 13th December 2018, 04:31
This posting is false and malicious. Chris Brunet, a psychiatric patient, made this up and first posted this in 2006 and it has been repeatedly copied by others and re-posted. Mr. Brunet posted other false allegations about another psychiatrist and about a nurse. Later he assaulted Dr. Talarico, was found not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, and was confined indefinitely to a prison hospital. 'Julie" has re-posted this multiple times. 
samantha, 15th December 2018, 08:41
Dr Brian Neil Talarico has a history of violence and abusing practice, apparently 
talking to my co-worker here in bc the very brave man who assaulted talarico 
up in ontario is now known as a hero, for his audacity... 
talarico has hurt many vulnerable people and children.... 
talarico now suffers from severe seizure disorder, please brian stop !!!
Rick, 15th December 2018, 09:35
Just to give you guys advanced warning - when I next turn the main PC on, I'm deleting this crap and coding in a filter to reject any message with the name "Talarico" in it. These accusations have nothing to do with a Japanese film, and a quick Google search shows plenty such messages on other sites... 
Kindly go spam someplace else.

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