What draws us to horror movies? Is it the feeling of being scared while in a safe and comfortable environment? Is it the heart-racing shock of imagining what could be lurking in the shadows? Or is it a kind of perverse schadenfreude as innocent victims suffer a fate worse than death on the screen in front of us?
These may seem like quite weighty questions for a mere film review, but anybody intending to watch Japanese director Takashi Miike’s AUDITION should be prepared to find themselves pondering them.
The film begins with widower Shigeharu Aoyama being encouraged by his teenage son to find love again. Shigeharu’s friend, film producer Yoshikawa, suggests they hold a fake audition for an actress to play Shigeharu’s wife in a fictional film, and from there he can woo the applicant of his choosing.
What does happen is that into this seemingly innocent story an unnerving undertone is introduced, in such a subtle manner that at first the viewer would be hard pressed to say exactly what it is that is making them uncomfortable. Miike’s style is reminiscent of David Lynch’s as he slowly builds tension and makes the mundane seem somehow surreal. Our expectations are continually confounded and the sinister atmosphere increases, until the film’s dramatic, difficult and disturbing crescendo.
AUDITION is a good film and I would definitely recommend it, it is engrossing, stylish and subverts the viewer’s expectations. What I would be uncomfortable in saying is that I enjoyed it all. Nothing is more tempting than being told something may be too extreme for you to see, but if you do watch AUDITION be aware that you may very well end up seeing more than you wanted to.
Tom Parnell is a writer and former journalist who is hoping for a Doctor Who box set for Christmas.