JU-ON Girls gone scared.

dir. Shimizu
Opens Fri Aug 20
Cinema 21

Most American horror films follow the same cliched, fill-in-the-numbers formula: there's always an evil being who the characters spend much of the movie running away from. After the characters are hunted down by said evil being, the last survivor fights the evil being in a perfunctory final battle--which the good guys win, of course--and the end credits roll.

Japanese horror is a whole different ballgame. Japan's Ju-on eschews America's stale formulas, creating instead a pervasive feel of metaphysical creepiness. Braiding together characters and stories in a nonlinear style, Ju-on oozes with odd sound effects and specter-like poses, ultimately establishing a tangible, non-CG spookiness unlike any I've ever seen.

Ju-on's story begins with a social worker (Megumi Okina) who checks up on a family. What she finds is a house full of creaking noises and sinister shadows, and when she opens up a sealed closet, she unwittingly unleashes the vengeful spirits of a very disturbing little boy and his terrifying mother--who, we soon discover, were brutally murdered in the house. Now, all who enter the house are subject to a full-on haunting. (A pack of giggling schoolgirls decide to check out the haunted house? Bad idea. The police try to investigate? Bye-bye, coppers.) Add a big black floating mass of pure evil hovering over people's beds, and you've got some seriously scary shit. (Confusing, yes... but definitely scary.) Director Takashi Shimizu's disconcerting stylistic choices leave much unexplained, a tactic that succeeds in adding to the tangled web of discomfiting tension.

A theatrical continuation of Shimizu's creepy underground videos by the same name, Ju-on is a sensational piece of moody, atmospheric horror. Even if you haven't seen Shimizu's earlier films, you'll get sucked into his unsettling alternate universe of ghosts and grudges.

This release isn't the last you'll hear of Ju-on either, as Sarah Michelle Gellar will be starring in a Shimizu-helmed remake (The Grudge) due out later this year. And that's a good thing--the way I see it, American horror can definitely use a cinematic transfusion from the Japanese, who realize that nuance goes a long way.