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[Stanley Film Fest ’13 Review] A New Cult Classic Arrives In ‘Henge’

Following treatment for violent spells, a young man returns home to his loving wife. But as his seizures intensify, it becomes clear something inside him is trying to get out. Part domestic drama, part sci-fi thriller, the ambitious micro-budget tragedy henge heralds the arrival of a bright new talent.

Bloody Disgusting stringer Erik Myers took to the first annual Stanley Film Festival where he caught this special Japanese film when it screened on May 5.

Directed by Hajime Ohata, this creature feature has a running time of only 54 minutes, which gets the insanity rolling…

I was young, certainly of an impressionable age, when my father sparked my interest in the horror genre. Attack of the Mushroom People, he told me during a dinner conversation, was one of the scariest films he had ever watched. It’s a 1963 Japanese flick, originally titled Matango, in a group of shipwreck survivors wash up on a mysterious island. Then mushroom people show up. It’d be easy to dismiss it as just another cheesy creature feature of his youth, only this one had a gruesomely unhappy ending. Without YouTube around to instantly ruin it, my imagination was set off by his impassioned description. How could such a terrible fate await the good guy? Bambi aside, this was perhaps my first fling with fatalism, a concept frequently explored in horror movies and especially so in Henge, an absurdly fun 2011 horror film from Japanese director Hajime Ohata.

There are many similarities between these two films, but I only mention the former because I imagine I will speak of this film with a similar gusto when my kids challenge me to name the nastiest horror film I’ve ever seen (since no child should hear about The Human Centipede II from mom or dad, seriously.) Henge opens in a quiet laboratory where white-cloaked scientists huddle around a plainclothes man. He is inspected, interviewed. Then, quite suddenly, he begins shaking uncontrollably. This is Yoshiaki, an otherwise quiet man who has been beset with a serious seizure problem for years. It has upset his relationship with his devoted wife Keiko. Nonetheless, she seems ready and willing to help him overcome his ailment until one evening when, mid-seizure, his foot suddenly takes on a grotesque new form. Then his episode ends and it changes back.

As a theme, Henge doesn’t tackle transformation in a unique or intelligent manner beyond a lesson or two in Japanese folklore. But this is a monster movie, not Kafka. On top of that, it’s a low-budget affair, but horror fans will appreciate director Hajime Ohata’s cost-effective instincts. When Yoshiaki’s condition worsens, his “alterations” are more ridiculous than scary, especially near the end. Nonetheless, the character manages a gross glistening sheen, achieved through the basic tenet of emphasizing rubber and foam over CGI effects. The film’s real tension is in its’ great sound design and careful reveals. Even when we know something laughable awaits in the dark room at the end of the hall, the sense of dread never quite evaporates until perhaps the end when things get truly absurd. I recommend avoiding the trailer.

There’s some fun in Ohata’s nods toward an entire history of classic Japanese sci-fi cinema. To mention specific names would, of course, spoil Henge. His film won’t find a place in that pantheon, yet it’s destined for horror’s new cult canon. It’s easy to picture its’ substandard American remake, but I welcome it if it means opening more doors to the relatively unknown Ohata, so be it. One can only dream what he’d be capable of with some nice fat financing and the movie rights to manga artist Junji Ito’s best work. -Erik Myers



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