The settling is a rural all girls school in a Victorian style mansion. The Reverend mother and sisters run the school. They are devoted to Ophelia from Hamlet with a picture of her floating down a river to her death displayed prominently behind the Reverend Mother's desk. The star pupil is Aya (Ayama Nakjo) she is the tallest and prettiest girl in school and sings the Ophelia song like an angel. Just about all of her class mates carry a secret crush. Suddenly Aya locks herself in her room and refuses to come out. Her actions stir up old rumors of a curse that has once again resurfaced at the school. Stories began to spread about a kissing game where you kiss a picture of the person you love at the strike of midnight. Then a picture of Aya appears that seems to put those who possess it into a trance with some of the girls vanishing altogether. Aya still will not come out of her room, the dorms are put on lockdown and everyone wonders in hushed tones if the past rumours are true.
Director Mari Asato delivers all of the main elements one would expect to find in a Japanese horror film. There are no shock moments but instead a steady increase of a ghostly presence that approaches transfixed subjects to whisper three hushed words LIFT MY CURSE. Another staple is also present the use of muffled sound rising in volume in unison with the level of terror felt by the actors. Asato's screenplay based on the novel Eiji Ohtukha gives the narrative its needed time to unfurl. The main players are given their just time to develop and divide the supporting from the lead characters in the piece.
The Victorian school and dormitory are a major element in the film. Footsteps echo through the halls, the dorms are old shaped with awkward beams and drawstring attack entrance. Plus the most memorable ghostly apparition in the piece takes place in the grand hall well the girls gather to hear important announcements.
The casting department assembled a strong cast. Aoi Morikawa emerges from the group in the lead role of Michi. Morikawa plays several different emotional states in the film. Early on she is a secondary supporting character then one of the main spellbound students and finally the one that has the best chance of breaking the curse. Ayama Nakjo has the most to do in the film as Aya. She is worshipped as the prized student at the outset then absent except for a ghostly presence for the middle of the film before she partners with Michi in the attempt to end the curse.
Fatal Frame is a classic telling of a Japanese Ghost story. The narrative is strong and the setting, acting and subtle special effects strike the right mix. The film has a deliberate stride that winds its way to a satisfying conclusion.
*** 1/2 Out of 4
Fatal Frame | Mari Asato | Japan | 2014 | 104 Minutes.
Tags: Ghost, Catholic Boarding School, Suicide, Pact, Curse, Picture, Possessed, Reservoir, Drowning.