Having moved into a largely abandoned apartment building with her family, nursing student Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) is asked to distribute gifts to the remaining neighbours. With the elderly man living across the hall proving unresponsive, she instead sets out to explore the local area, crossing paths with a strange little boy playing alone in a nearby sandpit. The boy seems to know her neighbour, an elderly man who makes himself known later that night with the sound of dragging furniture and a relentless clawing on the other side of her bedroom wall.
While The Complex is undoubtedly a marked improvement on Nakata’s last film, it is also undeniably a step backwards for a director who by now could surely do this sort of thing in his sleep. Practically responsible for the entire J-Horror movement (at least in the west, where Ring changed the face of the genre for almost a decade), Nakata is now firmly back in his comfort zone.
Unfortunately, while Nakata might not have moved on, audiences most certainly have. In the intervening years the genre has seen a curse put on everything from cellphones to corneal implants in a bid to meet the sudden demand for straggly-haired ghost girls. Even next to such examples, The Complex seems particularly derivative. There are no gimmicks here, just another haunted building. It’s a stretch just to imagine Japan has any left.
Admittedly, the opening twenty minutes are as effective as any of the director’s other films, as we are introduced to Atsuko Maeda’s Asuka, her creepy neighbour and the strange boy forever playing alone in the courtyard outside. Maeda, a popular Japanese singer, is as likeable as she is talented, but brings precious little personality to the role. In fact, any good-will earned during these early scenes has as much to do with familiarity and nostalgia as the successes of either Nakata or Maeda.
Before long, The Complex descends almost into parody, as it falls back on every cliché and contrivance the format has been criticised for. Say what you like about Chatroom, but that film at least had some imagination and novelty value, dropping rage-fueled ghouls for Aaron Johnson’s cyber bully. The only notable aspects here are those which fall most hilariously flat, as Nakata struggles unsuccessfully to derive suspense from cardboard boxes and a locked skip. The narrative itself is so contrived and needlessly complicated that it soon ceases to be coherent, let alone actually scary.
Generic, confusing and — bar a few preliminary beats — not even remotely unsettling, The Complex is not the return to form for Hideo Nakata that many had hoped. While it may not be quite as poor as Chatroom, it is neither as noble or as memorable a misfire.