We're at a time with the rest of the world catching up with Hollywood in offering 3D content, since an explosion of screens with the right infrastructure put in place, and the marketing machinery already being rather successful in convincing audiences to accept having to put on an extra pair of plastic glasses, and to pay more to do so, means more money to be made in putting out a 3D film, whether shot with the right type of cameras, or done so doing post-production. The Shock Labyrinth, as the marketing language puts it, is touted as J-Horror's first live action 3D offering, and don't let the cheesy looking trailer fool you, it's actually much better than the teaser made it out to be.
Directed by Takashi Shimizu who was responsible for the original Ju On films as well as the American adaptation The Grudge, one wonders if he had preferred to stay within his comfort zone in yet having to craft a story with children and water, and a tale of revenge even, where a group of childhood friends gets an unexpected visit by one of their own 10 years after her mysterious disappearance. Things get stranger when it is learnt that she had presumably died, and as such, just who is this Yuki (Misako Renbutsu) who turned up. Even stranger is that the group of Ken (Yuya Yagira), Mikoto (Ryo Katsuji), Rin (Ai Maeda) the blind girl and Yuki's sister (Erina Mizuno) all seem to head back without a single recollection toward the scene of their misdemeanour, a house of horrors within the Fuji Q Highland theme park which is fit out to resemble a hospital.
The narrative is a strange brew of reality and fantasy, with even a time warp of sorts get thrown in, complete with the paradox of time travel, which makes it seem a little bit implausible for the non-linear narrative to hold water, other than to suggest that memories can be faulty, especially a collective one from some 10 years ago. The constant flash forwards and flash backs do make it a jarring experience, and forces you to work hard at piecing the fractured stories together, which didn't help when you allow the paradoxes to set in, or have the visuals interfere with solving the mystery of what exactly happened during that fateful day when the children decide to head off on their own to the labyrinth.
But to give credit where it is due, the story does try to add some depth to its characters as we navigate through their individual guilt trips of their involvement pertaining to Yuki's mystery, and even found some time to thrown in some romance into the mix, which on one hand may seem unnecessary, but provided a contribution to motivation on why things do go bump in the night. It examines that collective repressed memories that we tend to bury deep within our subconscious, and what more when this is shared amongst a group who wants to best forget what they're all directly and indirectly responsible for, becoming in turn the victims of their guilt and recipients of their just desserts which the resident spook of the film piles on.
And it is the execution of Yuki's revenge that exploited the best of its atmosphere within the confines of a house of horrors (strangely the title here) that comes complete with porcelain mannequins with grotesque features. The film possesses an incredible depth of field as well to bring out the best of its 3D, while not overdoing its attempts in throwing everything toward the screen, opting to instead take it really slow, like a hand reaching out slowly to grasp something. The character Rin also provided some opportunity to mimic the radar prowess of Daredevil's, which I thought was strange since she could actually see, and probably provided actress Ai Maeda some reprieve from trying to act blind all the time.
Most of the surprises and inevitable twists happen in the final half hour of the film, and while probably not reaching the standards set by the best in J-horror, The Shock Labyrinth certainly does have its moments, other than what you see from the trailer that contained relatively raw looking special effects, and with its numerous bunny scenes made it look rather fluff in treatment.