*Spoiler Alert and Disclaimer: I will be covering a work of horror filled with dark themes and grotesque imagery.*
Adaptation – a dirty word for anyone who cares about quality movies. Adaptations are more of a mixed bag than any other type of movie.
They can be so good they revitalize a series, like Lord of the Rings, or they can be so bad that fans of the books sign a petition to never make the sequels, like Eragon.
I’m pretty sure you can guess which side of the coin I’ll be talking about today.
See, I was really excited when I heard that my favorite piece of media ever had been adapted to film. I had so many questions that I now wish I had never asked.
“Uzumaki” is a manga written by Junji Ito in the late ‘90s and is well considered to be one of the greatest works of horror ever written. It also happens to be my favorite book.
I read it one night during a fit of insomnia and got through with it right as the sun rose the next morning. It has this kind of haunting attraction for me, with its grim atmosphere, its horrifying twists on the human form and the serene beauty of Ito’s art between the horrifying moments. It’s a Japanese take on Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth, except we watch the descent.
Also, it’s just about Uzumaki, or the shape of a spiral. Like, not a man with a spiral on him somewhere, but this eldritch entity that is spiral. A creeping infection that spreads itself through everything and everyone within the town the novel takes place.
I first learned that a live-action movie had been made when I was searching for a physical copy of the book. I was confused as to how I hadn’t heard of it; I’d seen people online discussing the novel far before I had read it myself, but no mention of a movie.
I then watched it and learned why no one talked about it.
See, the movie was made in the year 2000, right in the middle of what I consider to be the dark age of movie making.
It was around this time that digital editing became widely available, and just like a kid with a new phone, it is then quickly used so much in so many trash ways that we question if it was a good idea to begin with.
Movies around this time are edited far above anything considered reasonable. The colors are warped so that every movie looks muted and colorless, the speed of footage is not sped up and slowed down on a whim, and every after-effect they could think of is shoved in there at some point, because it would be a waste not to use them all.
And this movie does all of that. The whole movie, save for a few shots, is just green. In the matrix, they used the green tint to signify that they were in the machine, but so many movies have used it to try and create tension.
It doesn’t – it just makes the movie less visually appealing.
They also have way too many cuts. They will cut mid-conversation to a different shot of the same conversation. My favorites are the ones where they cut to the camera almost touching the actor because it’s so close.
Now, this movie isn’t all bad. It has two scenes that are some of the best horror scenes I’ve ever seen.
Other than that, though – yeah. It’s a terrible movie.
These two scenes though – if we look at them on their own – are masterpieces. The best is a recreation of the first big scare from the novel.
Instead of doing the easy thing and showing us an unrealistic CGI mess or bad-looking prop, all we have are the characters reactions. In the book, the scene shows that a man has shoved himself into the shape of a spiral within a wooden tub. We see how it looks in the novel and it works because Ito spends over eight hours on these payoff pages, and they look great for it.
Knowing they couldn’t do it justice, the filmmakers opted to show the characters’ reactions to finding him. The man’s son walks over to the washing machine (the stand-in for the tub) and looks inside. With a completely dead look on his face and almost no reaction, he just utters one word: “Uzumaki.” The man’s wife then runs over, looks inside, screams, and begins to vomit all over the place. This reaction scene instills more fear in a person than anything they could have shown us. We know what happened, as it’s pretty obvious, but were left to our imagination as to what exactly they are seeing.
The second best is an okay-ish payoff to the second chapter, where the previous man’s wife has gone insane from her phobia of spirals. She finds out that there is one last spiral in her body besides her fingertips and hair: her inner ear.
Her mind breaks, and this is shown in a great scene with the only decent use of visual effects in the film. She then takes a shard of ceramic and starts to stab into her ear. This specific scene would have been great if they had cut to a static hallway with her screaming. But instead they told the cameraman to have a field day, and the camera angles swing around and shake all over the place.
One of the worst things this movie did was try to incorporate too much from the source material. The original novel can be split into three parts, each full of their own stories. Each individual chapter can be self-contained in the first two, with only the third part having a strong overarching narrative. The movie tries to use around eight of the stories in their entirety, with several other stories merely being referenced.
The problem is the movie is only 90 minutes long.
They spent so much effort trying to weave together all these different plot lines that they all ultimately lead nowhere. At the end of the movie, they have a cop-out where they just show news footage that wraps up around five of the plotlines, with only a couple of seconds devoted to each of the payoffs.
It is a slap in the face, especially with the fact that many of the stories they wrap up in this manner are some of the best. They spent over 10 minutes building up to some of these, only to just brush them off in the last several minutes.
Overall, this movie is awful, and I can’t recommend it. I rate things from 10 to -10, with negative being ironic enjoyment, and I have to give this a -4. It completely butchers the source material, and it stands up there as one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever seen.
Do read the novel though, because that is one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever read.
This was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon and edited by Margot McClellan.