It’s enthusiastically nasty and is at least trying to do something a bit different with the material, but Ju-On: Origins strips this cursed franchise of its overused imagery and forgets to replace it with anything worthwhile.
This review of Ju-On: Origins is spoiler-free.
I suppose this year, one of our wackiest on record, is as good a time as any for a Ju-On resurgence. In January, we had to endure Nicolas Pesce’s dreary re-remake The Grudge, and now, thanks to Netflix, this endlessly cursed and woefully overambitious franchise has croaked its way onto the small screen as Ju-On: Origins, a six-part showcase from director Sho Miyake that feels, even at its best, like a loose collection of ideas and the odd enthusiastically nasty act of violence. It is, apparently, Netflix’s first-ever Japanese horror original, which might well be true, but it’s unlikely to leave much of an impression on anyone beyond the die-hard fans who simply want more of the contorted mythology.
We’re to believe that mythology really did originate here, in the “true events” that took place in a nondescript house in Toyko in a decade span from the late ‘80s through to the late ‘90s. At least long-form horror television is a better format than an overstuffed movie when it comes to tracing the various characters to whom the house’s evil becomes attached, but despite some loose links tying each episode together logically and thematically, Ju-On: Origins feels a lot like an anthology collection that lacks the strength and cohesion of an overarching narrative.
What is admirable about the show is Miyake’s insistence on leaving the brand’s most overdone ideas and imagery at its haunted house’s door; he’s looking for dramatic realism and a creeping sense of menace that is more patient and cerebral than played-out jump-scares, which are refreshingly avoided. But here the season’s brevity undermines it. Six half-hour episodes don’t afford much space for character drama and you get the sense the show realizes this since it occasionally leans into some strikingly schlocky violence that can feel unpleasant to the point of desperation, as if it’s papering over the obvious cracks that have emerged in stripping down the elements to what is essentially a drama too low-key and lo-fi for its own good.
None of this is to say that Ju-On: Origins is outright bad, just that it’s oddly empty. It makes an earnest attempt at expanding the Ju-On mythology without artlessly rehashing its past successes, but it also feels unmemorable as a result, light on scares and mood, and only intermittently attention-grabbing – and even then, only thanks to some well-staged but vaguely try-hard gore. Even on the small screen, this curse lingers.