One Missed Call
2003, R, 112 min. Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Kou Shibasaki, Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Renji Ishibashi, Goro Kishitani, Anna Nagata, Atsushi Ida.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 22, 2005
Japanese cult director Miike has been cranking out a steady stream of genre-hopping films at a record pace of late – nearly 20 movies bearing his directorial credit in the last four years alone – and with this film his prolificacy swerves into the already crowded arena of the Japanese horror film. It’s difficult to discern exactly if Miike is pulling a fast one on us, but One Missed Call feels like a put-on. Miike’s back catalog is a hit-or-miss affair, with moments of sheer blood-spattered brilliance (Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer) running neck and garroted neck alongside curious misfires (Zebraman, Full Metal Yakuza) . His penchant for buckets of gore, sex, and queasy, disturbing storylines has made him an underground sensation here in the U.S., while in Japan his standing veers between genius auteur and direct-to-video hack. Whatever your opinion, pretty much everyone agrees that when he’s firing on all cylinders, there’s no one else exactly like him out there. Which is why One Missed Call feels like a semiclever goof: It’s exactly like everything else out there. Fans of J-horror classics like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On, and especially Korean director Byeong-ki Ahn’s Phone will find themselves in very familiar territory, so much so that it appears that Miike is either running dry, making a bid for mainstream acceptance, or duping his audience. Shibasaki plays Yumi, a young college student whose friends begin receiving eerie voice-mail messages on their cell phones and then perish in horrific accidents three days later. What’s even creepier is that the messages are coming from their own cell phones, and are apparently made by their future, soon-to-be-dead selves. That’s a swell kernel of an idea, but Miike brandishes both his camera and his plot in our face with reckless abandon, making for some very oddly shot death scenes and a whole lot of cut-and-paste expository yammering that, in the end, is simply dull. It doesn’t help matters that so many of the fixtures of the genre – the long, black tresses and pancake makeup of the female ghosts, the peer group under phantasmic fire, and the creaky sound of jaundiced Doom spider-walking toward yet another teenage victim – are all here in full. This merely serves to heighten not the horror but the nagging sense that the director’s run aground, albeit only temporarily (this reviewer has yet to see it, but Miike’s segment in the new anthology film Three … Extremes is generally regarded as excellent). Knowing Miike, then, there’s a good chance that he’s simply playing mind games with us. On the other hand, One Missed Call is so derivative and overfamiliar that without definite knowledge of it being a parody, all we’re left with is a second-rate J-horror entry that bores rather than scares.