By ALEX EHRENREICH
Occasionally, while preparing for this column, I like to treat myself and watch a movie I know is going to be good. CURE was made in 1997 by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and was later placed alongside Ringu (1998) and Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) in the pantheon of late ’90s/early 2000s J-horror. Kurosawa’s horror repertoire also includes the very “of its time” movie Kairo a.k.a. Pulse (2001) about ghosts coming out of the internet, which received a western remake and a bunch of trashy sequels. The conventions in these films can cause audiences watching decades later to roll their eyes a bit, but I reckon CURE holds up the best of all.
CURE is about police detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho, previously starring in 1985’s Tanpopo and 1996’s Shall We Dance?) and his search for and capture of a villain who, while never hurting anyone himself, uses hypnotism to cause people to commit terrible crimes. Even better, it is real hypnosis, not the trite “society is hypnotizing people” false equivalency that horror films can sometimes resort to in order to sound relevant. The most relatable character by far is Takabe, the cop who absolutely must figure out the crimes and ends up peering into the abyss; he is effective as a stand-in for the audience as we learn more and more. After all, if the cop gives up like he is advised, the movie ends, so in that respect, that the movie doesn’t end well is not surprising. It’s worth saying that this movie doesn’t need to rely on being surprising, nor does it resort to jump-scares. The pace is pretty slow for a movie where the bad guy is caught halfway through, but somehow the nearly 2-hour runtime seems to fly by.
CURE is, on the surface, a gory police thriller, but transcends the genre because the aim of the film is not simply to find the killer, but more to elaborate on how the killing was done and further develop the principle cast in the process. Rather than the identity of the killer serving as some sort of tired plot twist or McGuffin we can see a mile away, here the horror is at the forefront; CURE contains plenty of spooky atmospheric shots and scenes of gore and mutilation. The filmmakers found some great sets, full of old decaying equipment and furniture to further unnerve the audience. One standout is the prison set, which looks like something out of Silent Hill. The film’s audio also deserves special consideration: since the primary topic of the film is hypnosis, the movie employs repeating sounds frequently, which rather than being relaxing only heightens the dread; even the sound of pouring rain becomes menacing. It is worth noting that the film also gives weight to spoken dialogue, and slows down so you can take in every conversation without too many quick camera cuts. Generally, this is the film’s motto: don’t show too much at once, rather keep a distance and let the viewer take everything in.
CURE’s strong direction and acting keep it from being a run of the mill police procedural. The only unfortunate thing, which shows the film’s age, is there apparently has to be an object with a mysterious power later in the film, which definitely gives off the same vibes as the videotape in Ringu. Overall though, how can I not recommend it? It’s a classic horror film that has stood the test of time much better than its contemporaries, with their embarrassing western movie and video game tie-ins.