Brussels 2013 Review: CULT Is A Wacky Found-Footage Horror Oddity

Brian Clark, European Editor
Those miffed by the fact that the monsters in Apollo 18 turned out to be moon rocks with legs will likely be even more enraged by antagonists of the Japanese found-footage horror film Cult. Granted, I never actually saw the evil moon rocks movie, but I'm guessing that those walking pieces of granite couldn't possibly less frightening than the nondescript, floating CGI earthworms in this one.

These earthworms are, I think, demons. They enter and exit hosts with little fuss and a soft noise that sounds like a combination of a "whoosh" and a "slurp." Sometimes they just float around the hallway and have what appear to be floating earthworm meetings.

So no, Cult is not a very scary movie. That said, I'm not sure that it's actually trying to be. In fact, by the end, I was completely baffled about its intentions. While the film is ultimately too middling to fully recommend in a "so-bad-it's-good" type of way, it's also a too wacky to completely dismiss.

The plot follows three aspiring actresses who get hired to appear in a TV special about a psychic master exorcising some demons at a house shared by a kind, timid mother and daughter. The girls aren't crazy about this idea, but they aren't too sharp either, and besides, it's work. So off they go to meet the psychic master.

The first thirty or forty minutes of the movie have a sly, comedic brilliance. Imagine the setup of every other found footage movie filtered through the uniquely Japanese sense of humor that has buoyed many of the nation's films for the last 30+ years, from Hausu to The Funky Forest: The First Contact. Everyone's aping for the camera with a mix of absurdity and naivity, and when these hammy performances are contextualized with the fact that they all know they are being filmed, it's actually hilarious. There are also a number of clever absurdist touches to the plot, but I wouldn't dream of giving those away.

But about halfway through, the film loses its way. I don't totally understand why -- it seems clear from early on when we see the demons that director Shiraishi Koji (Grotesque, Noroi: The Curse) isn't really taking the horror element or plot seriously. But when the jokes slow to a minimum and the film becomes bogged down with increasingly convoluted exposition (which is unnecessary in the first place since this movie has zero internal logic), I couldn't help but wonder if maybe all the humor that I thought was so sly was actually unintentional.

Whatever the case, the second half of the movie is a total slog of increasingly anti-climactic showdowns with those floating earthworms. The CGI looks like something a tech-savy 12-year-old with a consumer video camera and a green screen could have made, and, because these showdowns are visually and dramatically inert, they are accompanied by long question and answer sessions between the ditzy actresses and the psychic experts about what's happening. The very ending suggests once again that everything was probably a big tongue-in-cheek joke. I'm okay with that I guess, I just wish the second half of it were funny. 
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  • Erik

    I really enjoyed this one. It's similar in some ways to Shiraishi's "Senritsu Kaiki File" series, which has already tackled the Slit-Mouthed Woman, Hanako San, and even the Kappa. The thing I admire most is that these recent films from Shiraishi include phenomena that are likely too bizarre for a found footage film, and that makes things interesting, fun, and delightfully absurd. You're just not going to see this kind of charmingly spooky stuff that often in other films. The entities in "Cult" are reminiscent of the "spiritual bugs" from the Mushishi films and series. It's not as scary as "Noroi", but "Cult" is (at the very least) very creative and different. I look forward to more projects from this director.

  • harumph

    The moon rock spiders in Apollo 18 were odd, but great. Were people really miffed about them?

  • Brian Clark

    Apparently not everyone! but yeah, most reviews I read and people I talked to were.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    I remember seeing this since I loved Noroi The Curse (One of the scariest movies ever made) and I was completely dissapointed. It's even worse than Grotesque.

  • Michael

    I'm always intrigued by movies that are described as the scariest ever made. Want to remain hopeful that they will live up to advance billing. Can you list two or three other movies that you've seen that are scary so that I'm able to get a better understanding of your horror tastes and experience. Thanks.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    The Legend Of Hell House, Ringu, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, A Tale Of Two Sisters, Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, [REC], Audition, Insidious and many others are some of the scariest films I've seen.

  • PewPewPew

    A tale of Two Sisters and Audition were good movies but not something I would consider to be super scary. And I have never found Darth Maul or The Crow to be scary so I wouldn't say Insidious would fit into that category as well. It was more like a movie that was made to be shown on UPN or The WB. The Twilight of horror I guess you could say.

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