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Netflix’s ‘Ju-on: Origins’ weaves a disturbing, convoluted web of domestic horror

Netflix’s ‘Ju-on: Origins’ weaves a disturbing, convoluted web of domestic horror

Netflix’s ‘Ju-on: Origins’ weaves a disturbing, convoluted web of domestic horror
July 08
16:00 2020

Content warning: discussions of sexual abuse and extreme violence

“I asked you why you are gathering these stories.”

“Right. I could only say it was for a book. Even now, I can’t really explain why I gather them.”

After this year’s widely panned side-story everyone seems to have forgotten about, “Ju-on/The Grudge” looks to expand its haunting grounds to TV with “Ju-on: Origins,” a six-episode horror mystery detailing the years leading up to the original 1998 short films, “Katasumi” and “4444444444.” From 1988 to 1997, the lives of multiple people are reshaped by an insidious three-story home in the Nerima ward of Tokyo. It’s a seemingly simple setup that gives way to an intricate mystery involving the fears and horrors of domestic life.

The stories are as follows: a paranormal investigator attempts to find the fabled house. His journey involves an actress who loses her boyfriend after days of him going insane from looking into the house and working with his psychic mother, a young woman who is sexually assaulted and begins a self-destructive and sadistic path to revenge, a social worker who investigates the young woman later in 1994, two people trapped in unhappy marriages plotting against their spouses and a microscopic subplot involving a serial killer targeting young children.

Across 170 minutes, these competing strings tangle and twist over each other, not really knotting together cohesively until the end to mixed results. While characters are introduced at an even pace, the intersecting yarns begin to pile up in the middle when so many characters are in play. The serial killer subplot easily could have been a casualty, and nothing essential would have been really lost due to the involvement of another character.

The series also isn’t very heavy on the traditional scares associated with horror, focusing mainly on domestic horror — the darkest impulses of the human mind in a failing marriage, the vulnerability of women surrounded by uncaring and vindictive family members and abusive men and the very terrifying idea of being unsafe in your own home.

That’s not to say it’s lacking scares, however, as there are some very well done supernatural terrors in play, relying on a good use of tension and release. However, the bulk of the J-horror is focused on the emotional and mental tension between characters, with some of what goes unspoken scarier than the tension of ghosts creeping up on suburbanites. An especially great use of this is in episode three, involving the cheating spouses when one of them gets wise to what’s up. The scene that follows them confronting each other is one that will have the audience jittering with uneven breath.

The creepiest thing, however, is some of the more disturbing scenes don’t involve anything directly affecting the protagonists. While the protagonists are talking to each other and navigating the mystery, news briefings coming from old CRT TVs report on the real serial killer the one in the show is inspired by, the 1995 sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway and other seemingly random acts of violence. There’s just this disturbing quality to the grainy news footage and low-def voice lines coming out of them that grounds the characters in the grimey bowels of Tokyo they inhabit. Also, as unnecessary as the serial killer subplot is, his two scenes are very unsettling due to how underplayed they are.

Speaking of violence, there’s the gore. While there’s not much gore present, when the the show gets messy, it’s stomach churning. All I’ll need to say is the squeamish should bring a puking bucket for episode four. One word — fetus.

However, viewers should be warned of the ending of episode one and the beginning of two, which end and begin with an explicit sexual assault and humiliation of the victim. While fears regarding vulnerable women are at the core of the show, the decision feels somewhat tasteless, especially given where the plot yarn thins out and ends. I would also say that as someone who thinks it’s the most interesting story present in the show, with the woman, Kyomi, becoming by far the most intriguing character, it’s disappointing her trauma doesn’t really get the focus it deserves. A casualty of a three-hour story that could have been two without the fat.

As for how this ultimately connects to the overall franchise… I’m not sure. As someone who hasn’t seen any of the movies or read any of the books, I was pretty lost. Even some of the fans in the IMDb review page couldn’t find any solid story tissue beyond the house and general setup. Those who want a good introduction to the greater “Ju-on” mythology will likely find themselves lost and tripping over all the plot yarns.

“Ju-on: Origins” is a decent, if convoluted take on the notorious J-horror series, with an engaging mystery that doesn’t lack in shock or the grotesque. However, it could have spun its webbing more tightly, and there’s an uncomfortably itchy feeling that many of the questions the show raises will go unanswered in the main franchise.

Final rating: 3.5/5

Featured image: Courtesy Netflix

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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