Monday, June 29, 2020

[Review] Netflix Series “Ju-On: Origins” Gives Refreshing and Grisly New Start to Franchise

The popular Japanese horror franchise created by Takashi Shimizu made ghosts Kayako and Toshio household names among horror fans. As the franchise grew, splintering off into a parallel series launched from an American remake, Ju-On became increasingly convoluted with its mythology and timeline. Not that it mattered much; audiences showed up to get the pants scared off of them by the cursed house and its ghostly inhabitants. Stateside, though, the Asian horror craze that emerged in the early aughts had long waned, and The Grudge franchise seemed to have run out of new things to say. Netflix original series Ju-On: Origins takes the franchise in an exciting new direction, however, proving there’s still a lot of life and thrills left to be mined from this property.

Following the long-established custom, Origins follows multiple characters throughout multiple timelines, all connected by the iconic cursed house. All of which takes place in the years leading up to 1998, the starting point of the original franchise. Origins eschews the jump-scare ghost story we’ve grown accustomed to, though; it’s much more interested in creating a mystery heavily focused on its characters. Everything we thought we knew about the rules of this eerie world don’t exist yet, giving it a refreshing layer of unpredictability that it hasn’t had in a while.

Moreover, Origins is downright grim and bloody, offering the grisliest Ju-On story yet.

It can’t be understated just how surprisingly dark and bleak Origins fearlessly gets. The first episode features a child horrifically beaten by a predator, and episode two gets even more disturbing with a rape that plays a pivotal role in the narrative trajectory of the characters affected. As upsetting as those moments are, it’s only the tip of the iceberg – Origins delves into the ugliest aspects of humanity, at just about every turn.

With so many characters to juggle over the six-episode season, with episodes averaging 30-minutes, the complex web of mystery is densely packed and meticulously paced. Meaning it can be challenging to keep track of all the characters and various plot threads. Some characters pop up and fade into the background quickly, only to reappear again many episodes later when they were on the verge of being forgotten. Origins isn’t interested in giving away its answers easily, if at all. This series keeps drawing you in further and further, raising more questions along the way, and by season’s end, it’s clear that this is only the beginning. In other words, those looking for tidy narratives with concise arcs will likely find themselves frustrated with what amounts to a heady, engaging introduction to an ongoing story.

While Origins offers plenty of spooky supernatural elements, the biggest surprise is the amount of violence in store. The more intricate the plotting becomes, the more violent. Origins gets gruesome, and the blood flows free. More than ever before. Making it even more impressive is that it comes from the brilliant mind of special makeup effects artist Screaming Mad George (SocietyA Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master). Count on him and his team to bring some seriously deranged imagery to this world.

As legendary as the Ju-On franchise has become, it needed a shakeup. Origins more than delivers. Though set in the past, this Netflix original modernizes the franchise in a welcome way, bringing grit and complexity in surprising ways. It is, perhaps, too complicated for its own good at times, packing in far too many characters and plot without offering an easy foothold for viewers. Luckily, those characters are fascinatingly, deeply flawed. It may not be at all easy to see where this is going, but it’s so engrossing it’s hard to care. Above all, it’s found a way to tone down the jump scares and incorporate a different style of horror: unnerving violence. Ju-On: Origins’ inaugural season reinvigorates the franchise in a thrilling, unexpected way and leaves you eagerly anticipating season two.

Ju-On: Origins premieres exclusively on Netflix July 3, 2020.


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