This movie did not come highly recommended to me, but doing some follow up on the IMDB made me change my mind about picking it up. As my last reviews have been, and continue to be mostly Asian horror, I am opening my eyes to a wonderful new style of movie thanks to our friends in the far east.
St. John's Wort is not so much a horror as a thriller, and combines elements of Ringu's suspense with Blair Witch Project's disturbing camera work. Filmed between two set locations, this movie uses multiple camera angles and distorted picture coloring to create a mood that's both voyeuristic and maniacal. This adds to the plot of the movie which revolves around discovering one's past and the insanity that surrounds the ol' skeletons in the closet.
Nami is an art student who recently inherited a large mansion in the outskirts of the city from her birthright parents. When Nami was born her mother passed away and her father was left to raise her. Nami was put up for adoption at a very young age and was separated her father, leaving her to explore the old mansion to find out about her past. Nami has been creating artwork for a video game based on elaborate dreams that she's been having of herself standing at a long, dark staircase and staring up a creepy little girl. The young group of people are creating the video game to parallel the life of Nami, and using the inheritance of the old mansion as a basis of the horror genre for the game (i.e. a Silent Hill type of game). Nami brings her ex boyfriend, Kohei (one of the producers of the game), along with her to the mansion to shoot footage of the interior for the game and to serve as emotional support. Upon arriving at the mansion, Nami and Kohei notice a large patch of St. John's Wort growing in front of the dilapidated house. Kohei tells Nami that in old Japanese imagery St. John's Wort signified revenge. This, coupled with the undesirable look of the abode, leads us to our first conclusion that there are dark secrets within Nami's family past.
With a resident housekeeper onsite, the house's interior has been left in the shape the owner's intended it, but creepy none the less. Nami and Kohei begin exploring the mansion when Kohei notices paintings by a revered artist that had long disappeared from public eye. Nami begins to experience weird flashbacks involving the same staircase and begins to frantically rampage through the house in search of it. Upon exploring the house, Nami and Kohei stumble upon more disturbing paintings of a small child growing through adulthood, leading Nami to believe that the famous painter was her father, and that she is the child depicted in these paintings.
While the two are searching for the staircase we see them being shown on security cameras, randomly placed around the house. However, we do not see who's operating the cameras or learn of their motives for spying on the duo. Kohei begins uploading imagery of the mansion to the remaining producers in the studio, and one of the producers engineers a map of the mansion based on the imagery she's receiving. After completing the map, she informs Kohei that there is a room that the two have not ventured to yet. Nami and Kohei find the room, which happens to be the room where the monitors for the cameras are set up. The two believe that the old caretaker of the house has been spying on them and set out to find the old man. Unfortunately, they find the caretaker dead in the kitchen, a victim of a hanging. Now Nami and Kohei are stuck in the house with a killer that has been watching their every move. The producers then notify Nami and Kohei that there is an additional room in the house believed to be the artist's old studio, so the two seek this room out with every intention of finding Nami's father's history, as well as the voyeuristic killer. What they find out is pretty twisted and shocking, but I'm not one to spoil a good movie for ya!
As mentioned previously, the camera work both on the security end as well as the viewer's end is magnificent. Color changing scenery adds to the mania and paranoia, while an unnerving feeling consumes the viewer as they witness Nami and Kohei being stalked on the security cameras. There's one scene in particular where Kohei is uploading the security camera info to the producers when they inform him that someone or something is approaching the room he's in. We, the viewer, catch blurry glimpses of the ominous figure moving deliberately through the hallway to the room and the scene is played out to shock the viewer not with violence, but with plot. Awesome execution!
The acting by the two main characters is stellar, as Okina plays a wonderful part as the inquisitive, yet helpless Nami. Saito(Kohei) reminds us that a hero can be human, and does have limitations, especially physically. This movie was a nice change of pace from the usual "normal guy" taking out a killer with some farfetched miracle save. I will highly recommend that you pick up this movie, even though it does not have the type of shock value that Audition or Battle Royale had. It reminds us viewers that humanity does exist in film, and that sometimes your past should be left at just that.