In fact, the film is more of a comedy than it is a work of horror. It is only very rarely frightening. This said, Exte's horror scenes are all at least somewhat peculiar, and a number of them are genuinely unsettling. In one of the weirder sequences, for instance, knotted cords of hair shoot from a woman's head, like a bizarre starburst, attach to the ceiling above her, and lift her into the air, only to drop her to her death moments later. In another, far more disturbing scene, a hairdresser weaving the deadly extensions into a client's hair has shocking visions of the woman from whom those extensions were taken, seeing how this person was brutally mutilated so that her organs could be harvested by persons hoping to sell these. Such visions not only terrify the woman having them, but also tempt her to use her scissors to mutilate her client. The scene is very tense. While I cannot say that most of the remainder of the movie is anywhere as suspenseful as this one scene is, there are a number of other such moments. Moreover, there are plenty of weird details that, while not horrific, are tinged with enough darkness that they do add to the film's macabre feel.
This grim sense is, I might add, enhanced by the inclusion of a particular dramatic story line, specifically, Sono's depiction of how Yuko takes in her niece and how she decides to keep the girl after seeing how she is being abused. This portion of the narrative, by engaging the viewer with the characters, causes him to care for them and to be concerned about their well-being. The various pains the child endures, both as a result of her mother's alternately violent, manipulative, and neglectful behavior and as a result of her adjustment to living with Yuko, from whom she expects similar treatment, are touching. Initially, this part of the narrative is presented awkwardly, but it is soon developed in a much more gratifying way so that the viewer will probably find himself immersed in the characters' troubles.
These details do not, however, make Exte truly gloomy. Instead, they make it into a sort of black comedy, a parody of horror movies. Even when a scene is frightening, any fear that it arouses is likely to be erased by the various comic elements the director has included. The morgue assistant who steals the mysterious corpse that is at the center of the movies's narrative is, for instance, such a goofy, exaggerated (though still creepy) character that every scene he appears in cannot be taken entirely seriously. Chiaki Kuriyama's initial scenes, in which she and her roommate speak as though they were reading lines of overdone expository dialogue, have a sense of real fun to them, and the film's conclusion is overtly silly.
I will hardly claim that I was awed by Exte. I did, however, enjoy watching it. The movie is engaging, funny, and imaginatively realized.
Review by Keith Allen
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