The chances are that if you’re a frequenter of message boards, social media, or any other horror-centric corner of the internet, you’ve heard of Noroi: The Curse, a Japanese found-footage style faux-documentary that’s developed a strong cult following despite it being a not-so-easy to come by title for many years. Touted as one of the must-see scariest films in horror that eschews found footage horror’s typical bad rap, Noroi boasts stellar audience scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Though released in Japan in 2005, it’s still not had a proper physical release stateside. As a result, diehard fans have repeatedly uploaded it to YouTube only to have it pulled for copyright issues shortly after.
Now that it’s widely available as an exclusive streaming title on Shudder, it’s much easier for genre fans to access the film. But does Noroi live up to the underground hype?
Noroi plays out as a found-footage documentary by paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki). Naturally, he went missing shortly after the completion of the documentary. The subject of Kobayashi’s work takes a while to present itself, initially appearing as a series of unrelated paranormal topics by way of various interviews, fieldwork, and TV clips. Emphasis on the slow unfurling; this film clocks in at nearly two-hours long. That languidly slow start plays a significant factor for the film’s detractors.
Eventually, Kobayashi discovers a connection between these random clips; death seems to follow eccentric recluse Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga) and her young son everywhere they go. Pulling on that thread, Kobayashi starts unraveling the core mystery of a demonic entity named Kagutaba. This mystery and the elaborate mythology drive the film; much of the horror is implied until the final act. Director Kôji Shiraishi (Grotesque, Sadako vs. Kayako) employs barely any actual scares at all, forcing viewers to pay close attention to even the most seemingly innocuous of details presented. Shiraishi also skips out on employing many of the trademarks of found footage horror. All of which to say, the film’s power to scare rests solely on the shoulders of its storytelling. The more the dangling threads tie together, the more unsettling it becomes.
The methodical storytelling that ignores traditional atmosphere and scare-crafting combined with the lo-fi VHS quality is the wedge that divides those that love the movie and those that don’t. Admittedly, I fell into the latter upon the first watch. Nearly two hours is far too long for many horror movies, and the first hour does tend to crawl. The ultimate payoff may not feel worth it and certainly didn’t for me at first. But a second watch on Shudder deepened my appreciation for the film, which allowed for better absorption of the nuances and details. Details are crucial to unlocking this film, but patience is just as vital. Of all the found footage/faux documentary-style horror movies out there, Noroi sets itself apart from the pack with its unconventional approach.
Fear is always subjective, of course. Noroi spins a compelling mystery steeped in realism, though the mythology isn’t. Many of the actors play themselves, further blurring the line between reality and fiction. For many, it works. For others, it’ll drag without a satisfying payoff to merit the pacing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of enjoyment, Noroi’s place in horror remains fascinating. When it released in Japan in 2005, the J-horror craze in the U.S. had already started to wane. It remained in relative obscurity for years, at least overseas, leaving it up to fans to spread the word and keep it at the forefront of discussion. Over ten years later, the only DVD or Blu-ray offerings are imports, leaving Shudder as the only legal means of viewing.
And that just fuels the hype and mystery surrounding a unique anomaly such as this.