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Fatal Frame - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Gekijoban Rei Zero

Japan 2014


Mari Asato

Ayami Nakajo
Aoi Morikawa
Fujiko Kojima
Karen Miyama
Kasumi Yamaya
Yuri Nakamura
Koudai Asaka
Noriko Nakagoshi
Jun Miho
Minori Hagiwara

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Fatal Frame

aka Zero

Story: Michi (Aoi Morikawa) attends a Catholic girls' school and wants to become a photographer later in life. Her best friend Kasumi (Kasumi Yamaya) has even more special feelings for her classmate Aya (Ayami Nakajo) than Michi. However, Aya has locked herself up in her room for days already and nobody knows why. But there is a picture of her and rumors about it making the rounds. It is said that students who kiss the picture exactly at midnight will be under a curse that only girls are afflicted by. The picture is now in possession of Kasumi who one day vanishes in thin air right in front of Michi. After that Michi finds the picture and is now haunted by Aya's ghost herself. But it turns out that Aya isn't dead at all. She, too, is haunted by the ghost of a girl that looks precisely like her. Along with Michi she is searching for answers. Yet, more and more girls are gradually disappearing. The origin of the ghost seems to lie somewhere in Aya's past and the history of the Catholic school.

Review: The original installments of the "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" series were rich in atmosphere and have been extremely creepy video games that are still loved today. Unfortunately, the "Fatal Frame" series (or "Project Zero" in Europe) is rather unknown, although it easily beats its competition when it comes to the amount of creepiness. Being an extremely weak girl you have to fend off ghosts with only a special kind of camera at your disposal. A brilliant concept that along with dark shinto rituals could create a very tight atmoshere. Now we get the cinematic adaption of this video game series. And even though the movie is by no means bad it lacks too many of the elements that you would expect as a fan of the video games. Instead the film steers into a different direction and deals with the topic of lesbian-like friendship at a girls' school.

Fatal Frame - Film Screenshot 11

Wait a minute, haven't we seen that already? Right, the South Korean horror flick "Memento Mori" has also tackled homosexual love at a girls' school. Furthermore, it also centered around the high suicide rate of the country. Next to this "Fatal Frame" seems somewhat inferior, even though the filmmakers also took some choir scenes from the Korean movie and implemented them. Thematically the movie is less socio-critical and moreover it doesn't offer as many scary moments. You might consider it a brave decision to refrain from putting into effect really scary scenes in "Fatal Frame", after all we are used to scenes from the video game that will make your blood run cold, but "Memento Mori" did without your typical horror stuff and hit the mark by doing so. But it isn't exactly the same with this Japanese horror film. In fact, you will miss a more obvious level of spine-chilling scenes.

Fatal Frame - Film Screenshot 12

All in all, there is an eerie atmosphere to be found, though. It's just that it isn't intense enough. But maybe you even need to be thankful for not getting any hackneyed horror effects. Thus, it's difficult to criticize the movie for this, but in the end there is still one problem that is easily pinpointed. The camera obscura is actually featured in the film, yet it isn't used at all to defend yourself from ghosts. Instead, its short appearance can just be considered fan service. To neglect the key element of the video game series in such a way is simply unwise. A few other aspects are the shamanism and the eerie shinto rituals that go wrong eventually and thus summon restless ghosts to this world. We don't get to see much of that either, although you can tell of one ritual with a lot of goodwill and we even get to see a shaman for a short amount of time...

The film's atmosphere doesn't fully capture the one of the video games, but the Victorian girls' school, the timber pilings and the screens of boards as well as the soundscape that results from the girls walking through the corridors are really well done. Moreover, there are some pretty impressive moments, e.g. when the ghost walks over a lake or hovers down from the church ceiling. However, the story stands in the way of the well accomplished pictures. A story which more resembles a detective story than anything else, whereas the resolution of events is naturally taking place in several steps and actually is only mildly surprising. For that matter there is also the problem that many of the characters' introductions turn out to be too short. By the way, the movie is based on a novel by Eiji Otsuka who of course took the video game series as a source. With the supposed romantic relationship between the two students there is an unexpected, but not really inappropriate element featured, which even turns out to be the driving force of the film.

Fatal Frame - Film Screenshot 13

Ayami Nakajo gives an interesting performance as Aya, it's just that she still seems as wooden later on as if she were still playing the ghost. Apart from her it's particularly Aoi Morikawa ("The World of Kanako") who serves as someone we can relate to. The relationship between the two is always somewhat up in the air, which is also reflected in the ending. But that's just why it works out. The ending is a bit too conciliatory and once more shows that "Fatal Frame" just isn't the gloomy, extremely dark picture that we expected it to be. Accordingly, and despite a dense atmosphere, the film is lacking something - in addition to the camera obscura, of course. Furthermore, the pacing is very slow, especially at the beginning, and many parts of the film prove to be almost episode-like additions that should have been connected in a better way. Therefore, being a fan of the video game series you will be somewhat disappointed, although "Fatal Frame" manages to stand on its own two feet as an interesting horror film.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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