Ju-On Origins: Season One Review
Part of a cycle of Japanese horror that took a massive hold of the genre in the late 90s and early 2000s, Ju-On: The Grudge, like Ringu, gave birth to a massive cross-platform franchise that took in film, books, graphic novels and inevitable Hollywood remakes. The first of those was produced by Sam Raimi and starred Sarah Michelle Gellar in 2004, while this past year also saw a new Hollywood version from Nicholas Pesce that wasn't exactly greeted warmly by critics.
Premiering on Netflix is Ju-On: Origins which purports to be retelling the events that actually inspired the original branch of the franchise. Although, as always with the horror genre, the 'based on a true story' tag feels more like an excuse to try and elicit more scares from the audience than actually trying to truthfully retell factual events.
In truth, the Ju-On franchise has always been somewhat in the shadow of Ringu. Hideo Nakata's first instalment of that franchise was genuinely terrifying while Ju-On always felt like it was trying to cash in on its success by doing its own terrifying pale-skinned demonic terror with a tragic story, albeit one centred to a location rather than a videotape.
Premiering as a Netflix Original, the series is the latest in a long line of international productions from the streaming giant. They've produced French horrors such as Madeleine and Vampires recently, while away from the horror genre they've been a home for some wonderful works from South Korea such as My Holo Love and Love Alarm, not to mention bringing blockbuster hits such as Itaewan Class and Crashing Landing on You to an international audience.
Being an established franchise and a horror property means that Ju-On: Origins may very well find an audience, but whether or not it makes an impact remains to be seen. It's a slow burn of a series, drenched in a foreboding atmosphere where horrible events always feel as if they are on the cusp of happening, and frequently they do. Frequently, the storytelling resorts to scenes that are at times legitimately disturbing and horrific, pushing the boundaries of that '15' rating at the start of each episode, if you're watching in the U.K that is.
In the space of the first two episodes, scenes depicting child abuse and sexual assault are thrown at the audience, the latter in a sequence that is incredibly upsetting. It's a grown-up series for sure, one that relies on an unsettling atmosphere and imagery in a way that might prove cumbersome for audiences more used to the jump scare tactics of The Conjuring or Paranormal Activity franchises. This wouldn't be a problem if Ju-On: Origins worked, but it never fully comes together in the manner that it should.
A slow-burn pace and an intense atmosphere, when utilised correctly, can work wonders with a horror story, but Ju-On: Origins drags more than actively sucking you into its dark narrative and expansive time frame. It begins in 1988 and works its way forward. Refreshingly, the 80s set episodes never wallow too much in nostalgia. We see videotapes and cassettes dotted throughout, but it never stops to point them out in the manner that so many productions set in that period are prone to doing.
Each episode is short, with the longest-running to thirty-one minutes, and with six episodes it never outstays its welcome. But it never makes a considerable impact outside of its more shocking scenes. Those moments depicting children being beaten and one of its lead female characters being sexually assaulted are genuinely disturbing, but they take you out of the events because of how blatantly awful they are to watch.
Just when it seems the series is content in delivering scenes and themes that push the story into the realm of the grisly and plausible, it then goes and delivers an incredibly preposterous sequence of violence in its fourth episode that begins with the horrifying murder of a pregnant woman and then just gets increasingly ridiculous from there.
For a series about ghostly apparitions, it's a disappointment that it never quite achieves the spinetingling effect that it's clearly aiming for when utilising its genre elements, while the more shocking depictions of abuse, rape and violent murder, a lot of which is doled out to its female characters, are clearly a driving force with which it strives for visceral impact, and more the pity that it has nothing much else to offer.