Noroi: The Curse is an absolutely terrifying film

Found footage is a genre that is known for being played out and incredibly passe these days; you have your Paranormal Activities and others that have taken the cinema world by storm, ushering in one of the most popular subgenres in film. If you thought that only the west got in on the found-footage craze, then you’re absolutely wrong. Japan is well known for its particular brand of horror, affectionately referred to as “J-Horror,” which was popularized by the prominence of films like The Ring and Ju-On.

What made these particular films so popular is how their approach to horror was much more personal, intimate, and emotional. The horror of the aforementioned films is more direct to the lives of the main characters, as their lives are invaded by whatever malevolent force is present. Plus, these movies really know how to create some incredibly creepy antagonists for the protagonists to face cause you’ll never meet another horror villain like these spooky creatures. Now, what if you got this kind of horror film and also combined it with the genre of found footage?

You’d end up with one of the scariest J-Horror films to ever exist. That film is Noroi: The Curse.

Move aside grudges, curses are my new friend

Noroi: The Curse Kobayashi and Marika
Credit: Xanadeux Company

There are very few moments in my life where a piece of media made me feel any sense of true dread, which is mainly due to me consuming so much horror media over the years. But when I eventually watched Noroi: The Curse for the first time years ago, I felt something akin to true fear; it was a sensation that I hadn’t felt be so prominent, even as I watched the film in broad daylight. It’s a film that really gets under your skin in a myriad of different ways and just when you start settling into any degree of comfort, something new and disturbing happens.

The premise of Noroi is pretty simple: a well-known director and paranormal researcher, Masafumi Kobayashi, was working on his newest film titled The Curse before suddenly disappearing. The night before he disappears, his wife dies in a mysterious house fire. The only clue that sheds light on his disappearance is his film, which was completed prior to the aforementioned tragedy. The rest of the film is what Kobayashi put together and man, let me tell you, what he captured is really damn compelling.

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The entirety of Noroi is an exercise in discomfort that makes the formula of found footage really do some serious work for the sake of scaring the audience. Found footage is taken much more literally in this film as it really feels like we’re watching the entirety of a man’s efforts to solve a mystery. Up until things escalate, we are given a straightforward documentary about some seemingly unrelated events surrounding a reclusive woman, and eventually, things expand to include a threat that is beyond human understanding.

Everything is slow in this film and it only makes the creepier scenes show up out of nowhere and really hit you like a ton of bricks. Every horror scene in this movie just sneaks up on you when you least expect it; two characters can be having a fairly normal conversation and all of a sudden birds can fly into a window. There’s a method to this particular brand of madness, as we feel the distorting of reality by the paranormal increase with each moment that just gets under your skin in new ways.

Noroi: The Curse Kanna drawing
Credit: Xanadeux Company

Terror in this movie is nigh existential, as every tragedy, every clue that brings us closer to the truth adds another piece to the puzzle that looks more messed up by the day. When you start to zoom out to see the whole picture, you understand simultaneously more and less as time goes on. If this was a jigsaw puzzle, in particular, the pieces would have pieces that needed to be put together and turned upside down to make sense. Okay, the movie isn’t really all that complex, but there’s plenty in the mystery that just seems arbitrary and is all the more horrifying for it.

The characters really make this film work well, as they all feel like real people put in a horrifying situation; Kobayashi himself is the perfect mix of clueless and unreasonably brave, as he willingly puts himself in harm’s way in pursuit of the truth. The side characters also lend themselves well to not just supplanting Kobayashi’s group, but also do well to showcasing how the supernatural shenanigans are affecting other people. No one gets out of this movie completely unscathed, as the extension of the so-called curse feels like it’s spreading throughout the entire film. Background details are key during your watch, as the story feels much more organic when those background details start being brought to the forefront.

The best way to describe it is to think of a pair of hands that are slowly but surely ready to give you a caress on the cheek. Noroi: The Curse is good at twisting familiar settings and creating a sense that nowhere is safe; every time Kobayashi and Co. are investigating something, it feels like the hands of the unknowable evil are working their magic in the background. It doesn’t matter how close they get to the full picture, because something new is right around the corner to keep the main characters on their toes.

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The end is at the beginning, so should you watch?

Noroi: The Curse evil wall of faces
Credit: Xanadeux Company

If you look all over the internet, you’ll probably find a couple of reviews speak about the slow pacing of the film. Truth be told, it does take a while for the pacing of the film to pick up, but once the brakes are loose, Noroi: The Curse goes full steam ahead. The second half of the film is a rollercoaster of just reveal after reveal, and the depths of the mystery are eventually revealed to us and Kobayashi. Once we get a sense of the entire scope of the horror, we get some of the best scenes in the entire movie (barring some admittedly bad CG effects) and one hell of an ending.

Everything is mostly wrapped up by the end and leaves just enough unclear to make for an unsettling sensation when the credits start to roll. For some people, not having every single question fully answered might be a bit frustrating, but I’d say that the most important mysteries are pretty well answered for the most part. Everything eventually comes full circle and it makes the viewing experience feel that much more disturbing when you reach the end. Everything else is left to your imagination, so let it run wild if you were able to watch this movie to the end.

If you’ve read this far and are unsure as to whether or not this is a recommendation, then let me make it unambiguous right now. Noroi: The Curse is one of the most creepy, unsettling films that ever exists. It’s ambitious, well made, and made some great use of the found footage formula to make something truly special. Paranormal Activity may have popularized the formula when it took the nation by storm, but Noroi was making waves in Japan well before Paranormal Activity even existed.

You can watch the trailer on YouTube and the actual movie itself on Shudder, probably the cheapest streaming service on the market right now that caters exclusively to horror fans. I hope this one makes you afraid to fall asleep tonight.

Happy Halloween. Stay safe out there and hold your candy tight.

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