Monday, October 10, 2011

Night of Terror #10: 'Seance'

What's the scariest sound you've ever heard? For me, it might be the sound of my brother's arm breaking when we were kids. Or maybe the sound those hanging dead bodies make when they're cut loose in Predator. But a close runner-up would have to come from one of the movies of Japanese master of suspense Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who is an absolute genius when it comes to creepy sounds in movies. With Kurosawa, though, it's not single sounds that make an impression, it's whole bunches of sounds, threaded almost subliminally through his movies.

One of those movies, Seance, is a TV production from 2000. But unlike previous Night of Terror entry The Whitechapel Vampire, this is definitely not something you'd see on the Hallmark Channel. The atmosphere here is one of creeping dread, and not the easily shaken kind, either.

Unlike Kurosawa's more famous movies like Pulse or Cure, the plot of Seance is relatively straightforward. A woman, who moonlights as a psychic medium, assisting parapsychologists and desperate police officers in their respective businesses in addition to providing run-of-the-mill psychic readings, is married to a man (a sound technician for TV and movies, naturally) who accidentally brings a 5-year-old girl home in a trunk. She was fleeing from a kidnapper, hid in his trunk, and he brings the trunk home and leaves it in the garage for days before the wife, who is of course helping the police look for the missing girl, picks up a psychic vibe and finds the girl there. She's still alive, but in bad shape.

At this point the story takes an almost Coen or hardboiled crime vibe, because instead of calling the authorities immediately, the couple hatch a scheme to make the police believe it was the wife's psychic abilities that found the girl. This entails shutting the girl up in their guest room for several days, even during visits from the police.

This is all builds to some excruciatingly suspenseful scenes, in addition to other supernatural hijinks involving the medium's psychic powers and ability to see dead spirits. And unlike most horror movies, it deals with many of the philosophical underpinnings of the supernatural - this is probably the only horror movie I'll write about this month that has an explicit reference to "Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious" in the dialogue!

I can't recommend this movie enough, particularly if you've watched Pulse and been frustrated by the murky and sometimes incomprehensible plot (or lack thereof). It's a great combination of straightforward horror/thriller plotting, and the kind of ephemeral creepiness Kiyoshi Kurosawa does best.

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