2005 / Japan
One of the special joys of watching Kôji Shiraishi’s found footage docu-horror NOROI: THE CURSE is playing detective alongside Jin Muraki as reporter Masafumi Kobayashi, a specialist in the paranormal with a healthy catalog of spooky videotape investigations and a name hearkening back to Masaki Kobayashi, the influential director of one of the country’s earliest ghostly classics, KWAIDAN (1964). Like that film, NOROI is steeped in folklore and ritual, albeit those solely conceived for Shiraishi’s purposes here. Sigils, ceremonies, and omens abound, and the filmmaker lays the ominous portent on thickly as Kobayashi gradually pieces together the binding ties that link one woman’s claims of an infant’s strange wailing to the submerged remains of a demon-haunted village. Glimpsed images and offhand comments coalesce in a chilling manner that is pure catnip for the deductive mind.
The film is riddled with themes and scenarios that frequent the creepypasta of the Internet, from the documentarian framing device to the climactic scene that finds our nightmare detective passing the forbidden threshold where a horrifyingly revelatory vision awaits. NOROI effectively sidesteps most of the suspension-of-disbelief hangups that mar other films of its kind, but the “Why are they still filming this?” moments steadily increase as the case reaches its grim conclusion, relieving the film of the lasting sting of, say, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. What NOROI might lack in final plausibility it surely makes up for in scope. Whereas Elly Kedward’s spirit remained confined to the spindly forests of Burkittsville, Maryland, NOROI informs us in the end that the consuming force at the heart of its text has only just begun and that, in the words of its abducted child medium, it’s already too late for all of us.
A special shout-out to Orrin Grey for bringing my attention to this film in the first place. His mention of it on social media and his subsequent comparison of it to LAKE MUNGO ensured that I had to probe into the mysteries of NOROI. Orrin is himself a fine chronicler and avid buff of the horror film, and those who’d like to hear more of his wisdom should make haste in snapping up a copy of Monsters from the Vault, his collection of macabre reviews from Innsmouth Free Press. Perfect reading material for a forlorn autumn evening.