One Missed Call (2004)

Class: User
Author: Pat Atwell
Score: (4/5)
July 3rd, 2008 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Chakushin Ari, or One Missed Call (as the US DVD release and remake are called), is a bit of a surprise. It comes from Takashi Miike, a man usually known for off-the-wall films that don't seem to fit into one genre. At first glance, however, Chakushin Ari seems to be a rather generic Ring (1998) rip off. The story seems like nothing new, and the theme of technological horror has been done numerous times. Miike brings something special to his film, though; and through a mix of satire, intelligent twists, great style, and some truly unforgettable moments, he creates a film that can stand quite well on its own.

As the movie begins, a group of friends exchanges cell phone numbers over dinner at a restaurant. When one of the group, Yoko, shows up late after coming from a friend's funeral, she tells Yumi Nakamura that there was something strange about the way her friend died. Meanwhile, Yoko's phone rings with an eerie ring tone she is sure is not her own. After checking the message, she discovers it was sent from 2 nights into the future, and from her own cell phone number. The recording seems to be that of her final words and a death scream in her voice. Two nights later, Yoko dies brutally, at exactly the time the call was sent from, after saying the exact words from the call. It is discovered that the curse that killed Yoko spreads through the stored numbers on the phone, and it takes only a matter of days for the curse to spread through the group of friends and target Natsumi Konishi, Yumi's best friend. Natsumi is given the chance to take part in a live, televised exorcism and accepts. But as the cameras roll, the exorcism fails miserably, and the curse is passed to Yumi...

The characters in One Missed Call are actually one of its biggest assets. Natsumi is a likable girl and you believe her relationship with Yumi. Yumi herself is a bit shy, with mental and physical scars stemming from her childhood that she is forced to painfully revisit. Kenji, another one of Yumi's friends, is a bit annoying, but still believable as the everyday college kid caught up in bad circumstances. During the second half of the film, Yumi meets Yamashita, a mortician whose sister was one of the curse's early victims. Like Yumi, he has things in his past he wishes he could forget, but his sister's death has him dedicated to unraveling the curse, and saving Yumi's life. As for the ghost girl, which is obligatory in this kind of movie, she's actually got a good bit of background and depth, and comes across as evil and sympathetic at the same time, while also never failing to be exceedingly creepy.

The acting, while not phenomenal, is respectable here, especially from lead actress Kou Shibasaki. Kou is able to show a nice range of emotions, and even the screaming, so often fake and exaggerated in these types of movies, is surprisingly believable. Of course, Yumi has a lot more to do than scream, but Kou also shows skill in expressing sadness, isolation, and, as the character develops, determination. Shinichi Tsutsumi as Yamashita also does a reasonable job here, although he isn't quite as believable as Kou, especially during scenes where he needs to be frightened. Most of the other roles are also serviceable, but forgettable as far as talent and emotion go. Kazue Fukiishi as Natsumi does have a nice moment before her death, however, where she demonstrates that she can show paralyzing fear and sadness incredibly well, perhaps better than any of the other cast members.

As for being scary, One Missed Call definitely delivers. During the first half of the movie, Miike plays it as more of a satire than a straight horror film, although he never approaches the level of self-parody displayed in films such as Scream (1996). There are some inventive death scenes towards the beginning, mixed with just the right amount of black humor. A great example of this is Natsumi's death scene, which is both horrifying and somehow comedic, superbly balanced. In the second half, however, the film goes straight into pure horror territory. There is the necessary investigation segment, but it is kept tense and interesting by several well placed creep-outs and “jump” moments, as well as the disturbing, and startlingly realistic, subject matter they are investigating. And when Yumi walks into an old abandoned hospital to confront her fate, you just know that you're in for a fright fest. The scares in the hospital sequence are numerous, fast-paced and almost entirely effective. They range from gross-outs to jump scenes to visuals that are just plain creepy, accompanied by a tense score and the ever present ring tone of doom, which is enough to scare viewers on its own. There are two particularly harrowing segments that take place in the hospital, and while I was watching I could feel my heart beating in my chest and hear my breathing speed up. At the end there are numerous plot twists and a vague open ending as expected, but they are handled very well, pulling what seemed like small plot points from the rest of the movie and turning them into a climactic revelation that is, quite frankly, one of the most outright disturbing horror movie twists I've ever seen.

One Missed Call is an incredibly effective film, able to seem fresh and provide massive entertainment despite of its obvious influences. When the film tries to be scary, it's absolutely harrowing, and when it's not, it can be funny or even genuinely dramatic. There is a good human background to the ghostly terror, and that helps keep the movie interesting during the buildup. And the payoff – well, my racing heart speaks for itself.