Thursday, August 19, 2010

THE SLIT-MOUTHED WOMAN (2007) Movie Review

(aka CARVED)
Rumors have been circulating from child to child in a small Japanese town that the Slit-Mouthed Woman has returned. She is an entity that appears for children alone, wearing a long raincoat, holding a giant pair of sewing shears, and has a horribly disfigured face with a jagged slash from ear to ear. After asking the child "Am I pretty?" she takes the child back to her hideout to cut up in her own image. When a child disappears from the playground, the entire town goes into hysterics, and when a second child is kidnapped, a teacher from the school, Ms Yamashita, witnesses the Slit-Mouthed Woman before both disappear.

Yamashita becomes obsessed with finding the young girl, and when she crosses paths with a fellow teacher, Mr. Matsuzaki, she learns much more than she bargained for. Matsuzaki believes that the Slit-Mouthed Woman is actually his mother from thirty years ago. He describes the constant abuse he and his siblings took from the fists of his chronically ill mother, and fears that she has since returned to the land of the living to kill him as well. Following the consistently corroborating rumors that they have heard from the children, Matsuzaki comes to the realization that the Slit-Mouthed Woman has once again taken up residence in the now abandoned house where he used to live.

The power and destruction that rumors and gossip can have when they spread like wildfire and morph into what is perceived to be truth takes on an unstoppable physical manifestation in this horror tale from director and co-writer Koji Shiraishi, who pulls pieces from a well-known Japanese folk legend for his tale. Shiraishi begins the film with an ambiguous energy that is not unlike the chicken-or-egg question. It is never revealed whether the Slit-Mouthed Woman strikes first, which start the rumors, or if the rumors start first which brings her into the real world. In either case, the Slit-Mouthed Woman draws her power from the collective gossip and fears circulating around the town. In that sense, she is very much Japan's answer to Freddy Krueger of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, with a maternal twist. She is an unstoppable force that can not be killed. She has no true physical form, and can only be seen when she possesses the body of a caring mother.

Koji Shiraishi, who has spent his entire filmmaking career in the warm embrace of Japan's horror community, is no stranger to shadows and jump scares. He utilizes these skills into a very subtle yet driving force within the context of the film here. His camera slowly pans and creeps along doorways and walls, obstructing the view just enough to make you anticipate the next shocking moment. However, the most horrific moments and the most difficult scenes to watch come from the flashback sequences of Matsuzaki's youth. Here, as a human, Matsuzaki's mother is truly a monster. Shiraishi lets his camera linger as the woman walks from child to child, striking with her fists. The muffled sound of each contact will send pangs of helplessness down through your soul, and Shiraishi holds just long enough for the viewers own protective instincts to kick in before turning away. This is where the film finds its greatest success, and it is these scenes that will most likely stay with the viewer longest.

Although children seem to be the targets of this entity, it is the mothers of the town that are the true victims. They become powerless and helpless to stop their children from being taken away, even when they attempt to protect them with their very lives via maternal instinct. That these caring mothers are possessed by the Slit-Mouthed Woman, who then in turn maims and murders, is the ultimate perversion of maternal care. This monster's only instinct is to lash out, hurt, and kill not only her own children, but any child that has a loving environment. Teens have long been fodder for slaughtering, but only in very rare instances do young children become victims in modern horror. In the world of this movie, young children are not safe from harm, and the film's creators take a daring step over a line that has been repeatedly drawn in cinema.

Within the murder and maiming sequences though, almost all of the actual penetration and cutting is done just off camera. Instead, sound is used to its greatest potential here. Horror crafters have long known that the mind can create a vision far more terrifying than anything that can be faked, and Shiraishi is certainly no exception. The grisly sounds the Slit-Mouthed Woman's sewing shears make will send shivers down the spine. Most people have probably been cut by scissors at some point in their life, and that real-life connection to pain makes the scenes just that more agonizing to watch. We are shown multiple mouth-gaping shots of the Slit-Mouthed Woman throughout the film, which are quite convincing. These are not the neat and surgical cuts of ICHI THE KILLER's Kakihara, these are jagged slashes, with the skin looking like it has even been torn beyond the initial cut.

The subject matter at hand is quite subjective. While those viewing who do not have children will most likely focus on the more supernatural mystery end of the film's spectrum, parents watching will no doubt be focusing on the plight of the worrying parents. More sensitive viewers may want to avoid this one, as this is a fairly mean-spirited film and though you'll get some good scares out of it, there is little entertainment value to be found here.


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