Between Ringu, Ju-on: The Grudge, and One Missed Call, the turn of the century ushered in the J-horror craze thanks to long-haired ghosts that enacted vengeance through curses—curses that spread from victim to victim in viral fashion. Director/screenwriter Hirotaka Adachi (also known as the author Otsuichi) aims to revive the dormant subgenre in Stare, a new entry in J-horror with its own long-haired killer entity. With a similar setup twenty years after the initial J-horror craze waxed and waned, the question of whether Stare has anything unique to offer this subgenre looms large.
At first, Adachi’s spin on the Japanese ghost story sets itself apart with an opening victim that dies in a restaurant in broad daylight, her eyes literally exploding from her head. Shocked and distraught, it prompts her friend Mizuki to seek out answers. She crosses paths with Haruo, whose brother wasn’t only connected to her deceased friend, but also died in the same manner. Their investigation leads to the discovery of an urban legend, where simply knowing the name of its central spirit will lead to your demise. The further they’re drawn in to their quest for answers, the bigger the target on their backs to attract the urban legend’s ghost, Shirai-san.
Shirai-san blends right in with the likes of Sadako or Kayako, from the uncombed hair that obscures her face, the ominous sounds that announce her appearance, to the way she haunts her victims prior to their death. Aesthetically and stylistically, Stare looks right at home with the forefathers of J-horror. Even the way the narrative follows its protagonists as they work to unravel the mysteries and secrets behind the string of haunted deaths feels familiar.
Yet the grisly deaths of Shirai-san’s victims and the Bye Bye Man-esque way she finds her latest prey suggests an attempt to bring the Japanese ghost story into the modern era. There’s no inanimate object that tethers this ghost—it’s all in the power of storytelling. It’s this concept that provides the most refreshing update to a tried-and-true format, in part because it presents an original way of dealing with its ghost. How do you contain a cursed entity that spreads simply by writing or speaking her name? Adachi offers up an intriguing set of answers, though he opts to focus more on sequel potential than a satisfying conclusion.
Because Shirai-san employs a similar modus operandi to horror figures we’ve seen many times before, she’s not as effective in the scare department. However, what she lacks in the fear tactics, she makes up for in an intriguing history and background. Mizuki and Haruo make for serviceable protagonists because of their budding relationship, but mostly because they’re the audience proxy that relays Shirai-san’s mythology piecemeal. That, above all, is what keeps Stare engaging.
Despite a few minor tweaks, the addition of gore by way of eye trauma, and a modern polish on an old trope, Stare doesn’t stray far from the J-horror formula introduced by Ringu two decades ago. Every time the narrative seems to take off in an unexpected direction, it settles back into familiarity. For those unfamiliar with this particular style of horror, Stare is competently made and worth checking out, but for anyone else, it’s far too similar to the J-horror classics and doesn’t take any real risks. Stare is more time capsule horror than the rebirth it was intended to be.
Movie Score: 2.5/5