Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Over the last two weeks, Lauren has eaten enough Birthday cake to kill a horse. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth
Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Over the last two weeks, Darren has confronted his early 2000s self via a series of music compilations on MiniDisc. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell
*** WARNING: THERE ARE A FEW SWEARS, A COUPLE OF MINOR SPOILERS AND DISCUSSION OF POTENTIALLY UPSETTING CONTENT ***
JU-ON: ORIGINS SEASON 1 (2020)
Starring: Yoshiyoshi Arikawa, Yuina Kuroshima, Ririki
Writers: Takashige Ichise, Hiroshi Takahashi
Director: Shô Miyake
Darren: Slight departure from what we normally do in that we’re reviewing a series rather than a film. It’s the Netflix Japan original Ju-On Origins.
Dr. Lauren: I didn’t know this had got to Netflix. I saw people talking about it and the next time I looked at Netflix it was at the top of my recommended list.
Darren: And it’s probably got a bit of cash behind it because I believe it NBC Universal is involved. Not a small production company.
Dr. Lauren: So, before we start, what’s your history with The Grudge series?
Darren: I’ve seen quite a few of them, including the initial American remake and then the sequel to that. Didn’t think those were too bad. I did prefer the Japanese ones, they’re almost bound to be superior. That’s my take on it anyway.
Dr. Lauren: The first one I saw was the American remake. I went to the cinema to see it with my friend Karl who doesn’t like horror films. After we watched it, we were both so scared that he said he was never going to the cinema with me ever again.
Darren: Bit harsh.
Dr. Lauren: It freaked me out so much. I’ve never seen the original Ju-On but both the American remake and the second one of those gave me night terrors and then so did this one.
Darren: So you must have a horror trigger connected to Ju-On.
Dr. Lauren: This is awful for me. This is really bad. I don’t often get night terrors. The only things that have ever given it to me is The Grudge remakes, the Japanese Grudge sequel, this new series and possibly The Babadook as well. Maybe Paranormal Activity. I think it’s something to do with weird stuff in houses.
Darren: Stuff that comes at night in property.
Dr. Lauren: It is. And the American remake of The Grudge, to this day, means I find it very difficult to go in loft spaces.
Darren: Yeah. I did see the very recent remake of The Grudge, the 2020 one.
Dr. Lauren: I’ve not seen that.
Darren: It’s kind of okay. A lot of people had a downer on it, I thought it was all right. The problem I had with it – and morover the problem for me with The Grudge in general as a franchise – is that it all follows more or less the same pattern. You have people in the house, they get a little bit of a scare at first, then they get more of a scare and then they’d be dead. This happens over the ninety minutes and with the latest version they do at least try to get some sort of a cop angle in, it’s kind of a police procedural but the overall plot is still shackled to the limitations of what the supernatural element can and can’t do. It does have Andrea Riseborough in it, though, and she’s really good.
Dr. Lauren: Oh, cool.
Darren: I don’t think I came down on it quite as negatively as some. Some people said it was terrible. It wasn’t terrible. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as some of the other ones. Also, you know what’s coming early on so there’s no real surprises in it.
Dr. Lauren: Right.
Darren: So, with this series, did you watch it all in one go?
Dr. Lauren: We watched two episodes individually a couple of nights apart and then we watched the last four together and that was when I had the night terrors. When I say “night terrors”, I mean the feeling that I thought I was awake. I think I might have kicked the cat off the bed. Thinking that something was grabbing me in bed and generally being terrified and sweaty and wondering what was real and what wasn’t. It was awful.
Darren: Shit! It didn’t have quite the same effect on me. Yes, it does have quite a few creepy bits in it but I think I was more depressed at the end of it.
Dr. Lauren: I really enjoyed it but it was so grim and so depressing.
Darren: It’s incredibly downbeat. Families are all falling apart, there’s all sorts of tragedy, there’s kids getting abused, women forced into prostitution…it’s really, really grim.
Dr. Lauren: There are drug addicts in it, folk murdering people horribly. It is really, really depressing.
Darren: The first episode, where they’re setting the scene, I sat there thinking that there was nothing particularly disturbing in it. Of course, they were saving something really grim for the end of episode one and then it goes even darker from there.
Dr. Lauren: I don’t know about you but I didn’t read up on it before I watched it.
Dr. Lauren: I’d seen a couple of people I know comment about it but that was it. I expected it to be the origin story of Kayako but it’s nothing to do with that, it’s about the house.
Darren: Which is good. I kind of expected the Kayako thing as well but in more ways it played like a true crime thriller. There’s still plenty of supernatural nastiness.
Dr. Lauren; There’s some awful stuff involving babies.
Darren: The bits with the baby were horrendous. I was really not having a good time with those. I was relieved when it disappeared from the story. But then the fucking thing comes back later on.
Dr. Lauren: Almost every time there’s a baby in it, something awful happens.
Darren: It is a parade of misery. Everybody has got problems, most of their lives are falling apart, people are considering murder, there’s infidelity left, right and centre, everybody’s sleeping with everybody else. If this is what Japanese society was like in the late 80s to mid 90s – because that’s what the span of the story is – what the fuck was going on there?
Dr. Lauren: It’s so fucking miserable because it’s the house that’s causing it all…
Dr. Lauren: …and what happens in the many Ju-On films, it’s pointing out that the house is the problem and the ghosts are all a result of that.
Darren: Also, every time they switch the TV on, the news is all about people being murdered or kidnapped or something else that’s horrible. At one point, there’s a report about a sarin attack on a subway, which is a real thing that happened, but that’s mixed in with other, more fictional occurrences of serial killings and the like.
Dr. Lauren: There’s a pregnant woman watching TV as she’s moving into the house and the news is talking about someone’s decapitated head that’s been found.
Darren: It’s a snapshot of how fucked up society can get and as such, it’s quite effectively done.
Dr. Lauren: One thing I could say is after we watched the first two episodes a few days apart, the reason we binge watched the last four was that we were losing the thread because there’s three different stories to follow and watching the last four together meant I kept the thread for the second half of the series. I was lost a bit at the beginning.
Darren: It’s very much non-linear and it doesn’t really give you many hints as to where you are in the timeline other than the characters who are there. And some of the timelines have the same characters in them.
Dr. Lauren: There’s a lot of overlap.
Darren: Watching all six at once worked for me because I found it easier to keep up. The downside of that was that after about episode three I wanted to top myself because it was so depressing. I ploughed on with it because I thought “Well, it can’t get any more grim”. What was I thinking? The second half is even worse. It does only have a 15 rating in the UK but some of the violence is horrible even if it isn’t over the top.
Dr. Lauren: There’s a few gory bits in it but not loads. A lot of it is implied or it cuts away. It’s done cleverly. It’s not gratuitous but it’s really fucking grimy.
Darren: There’s a bit with a ringing phone where I tbought “That’s just disgusting”.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: I was wondering whether or not it would stretch to six episodes but it does. It keeps itself going just about enough so you don’t get bored with it. It’s not especially fast moving but there’s usually something going on.
Dr. Lauren: It takes its time but I quite liked it – is “like” the right word?
Darren: I think if people go in expecting constant terror and waiting for something to jump out every couple of minutes they’re probably going to be disappointed because it’s not really that interested in making you jump. There are a couple of startling moments but the story takes precedence over having things leap out on the characters all the time.
Dr. Lauren: I was pleasantly surprised by that. I was expecting it to go down the “trying to do loads of jumps scares” path. There were a few scenes where you’d notice something in the background or there’d be something moving about behind the main focus and you could see it but the characters didn’t. Towards the end all the stories intermingled and people were having visions of what had happened in the past….I don’t want to spoil it too much.
Darren: Yeah, it’s like an anthology movie where the last story includes the elements of the stories you’ve seen before.
Dr. Lauren: It did get quite tense towards the end. I watched quite a lot of the last two episodes through my fingers.
Darren: It’s billed as Season One. There could be a Season Two. It doesn’t leave things completely open but it does leave you with some questions unanswered at the end.
Dr. Lauren: I like that though. It’s not wholly related to the main thread of the films and I’m not sure whether there’s more to it than Kayako and the little boy ghost but because the series is more about the house you’ve more scope for literally anything happening over the timespan for which it’s been standing. They haven’t gone over the whole history of the house.
Darren: There’s kind of a de facto hero in the guy who used to live in the house and is now researching what went on there. He’s not your classic horror hero. He’s kind of a schlubby, middle-aged, geeky bloke.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: I’m all for schlubby, geeky blokes being the focus of horror as I’m one myself.
Dr. Lauren: Overall, would you recommend it?
Darren: I would recommend it. I think you’ve got to go into it not expecting it to be that distilled, ninety minute cinema experience of creeping around dark houses and waiting for things to jump out on people as very little of this is like that. You might have your patience tested by those first couple of episodes as it’s setting everything up but it does pay off.
Dr. Lauren: In terms of tone it reminded me of Kairo. It was quite slow-paced but worth sticking with.
Darren: You need to put the effort in with the first couple of episodes because in terms of pace and in terms of scares it starts to really pick up after that. There’s so much groundwork it has to do in setting up all of the timelines that it can’t just dive in with horrible things happening to everyone. You can’t have that as a kick-off because there’d be nowhere to go.
Dr. Lauren: I would probably watch it again but I don’t think I’d watch it on my own.
Darren: Given what you said earlier I’m not sure you should watch it again.
[Dr. Lauren laughs]
Darren: I’d certainly give it another watch. There’s a lot going on and it’s all subtitled. There’s a lot to unpack as it goes along. I’d want to see what I missed.
Dr. Lauren: You do need to give it your full attention because one, it’s complicated and two, there are subtitles so it’s not the sort of thing you can have on and be half-watching it.
Darren: There were a couple of points where I ran it back because I wasn’t sure I’d got where it was supposed to be going. I ran the scene again to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything or to point up what I had missed.
Dr. Lauren: I’d be interested in watching s second series. I don’t know if I’d watch it just before bed.
Darren: I watched it late afternoon to mid-evening so I wasn’t straight to bed immediately after it. I wasn’t waiting for something to come out of the loft.
Dr. Lauren: Oh God, don’t say that! We watched the last four episodes right before bed so I suspect my weird haunted house trigger kicked in and went into full overdrive.
Darren: Maybe you need Odajima to come round your house and have a look, record stuff on his tape recorder, make sure it’s all right.
Dr. Lauren: No. He can stay away!
Darren: I did like the bit where someone doesn’t want anything signing by him because they thought the curse could get passed on through the bit of paper.
Dr. Lauren: What I’d like to know is what the neighbours thought. There’s this one house where consistently bad things happen to people when they move in. Wouldn’t they just go and set fire to it?
Darren: Every couple of years they’ve got the police dragging bodies out of there. Mind you, they probably couldn’t sell the places around it because the question would be “Where do you live?” and they’d tell them and they’d get “Oh, you’re next to that murder house”.
Dr. Lauren: Next to the awful murder house where we keep seeing the ghost of a woman in the window.
Darren: If you’re seeing dead women in the windows you’d want to move but the property market probably isn’t the greatest there. They keep going on about how cheap the house is but if people keep getting murdered there no wonder the house is cheap.
Dr. Lauren: The last couple in there were bragging that they got it really cheap and it was a steal but they knew all that terrible stuff had happened in it. What was wrong with them?
Darren: It’s not like it had happened once either, it had happened multiple times. Now, if it had happened once you’d think “You know, things happen, I’m not going to let it bother me too much” but every few years when they’re dragging dead bodies out of there you have to think “There must be something wrong here”. Yes, people die in places but when it happens over and over again you’d look at it and think “I’m not moving in there”.
Dr. Lauren: The woman suddenly sees that big stain and says “That wasn’t there before”.
Darren: It’s a huge stain which looks suspiciously like blood splatter. At that point, you’d be thinking “You know what? Fuck this place. Life’s too short”. Life’s very short if you move into that house.
Dr. Lauren: You wouldn’t get me in there.
Darren: There’s very, very few laughs at all so if you’re going in expecting it to be darkly comic, no, it’s just dark. It’s, what, six half -hour episodes?
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: So that’s three hours and you’ll be pushed to get any chuckles out of this.
Dr. Lauren: I don’t think that I’d recommend it to everybody. If you like grim, supernatural crime thrillers then give it a go. If you like your horror with a bit of comedy on the side you’re not going to get it from this.
Darren: If you’re firmly into mainstream franchise horror, even though this is connected to a franchise itself, it doesn’t have that knockabout wisecracking and levity that, say, a later Freddy movie would have. It’s pretty grim all the way through.
Dr. Lauren: The last Grudge-related thing that I watched was Sadako Vs Kayako and that was the polar opposite of this because it was played for laughs in quite a lot of places.
Darren: They kind of did a Freddy v Jason thing with that.
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: Two horror icons facing off. It was very tongue-in-cheek.
Dr. Lauren: I realised the tone Sadako Vs Kayako was taking the second that girl bought the VHS player covered in hair.
Darren: Whereas fairly early in Ju-On Origins you have some bloke beating up a child in a car.
Dr. Lauren: That’s really horrible.
Darren: That kind of sets the tone for what the rest of it’s going to be like. Overall, I was reasonably impressed. I don’t think it’s a landmark as far as horror series go but I had no problem getting to the end. I wasn’t bored and I certainly wanted to find out what happened in the final episode.
Dr. Lauren: In terms of score I think I’d give it three and a half out of five.
Darren: That’s exactly what I’m going to give it. I was thinking about giving it three and I thought that was slightly mean because it does try something a little bit different. It takes the franchise in a slightly different direction.
Dr. Lauren: I’d say it fleshes out the franchise but I may be coming from a slightly naïve place having not seen all of the films so if there’s a Grudge fanatic out there please let us know if it does flesh the whole concept of the house out. As I said, I was just expecting it to be the origin of Kayako and the ghost boy and then it wasn’t. I spent the first two episodes trying to guess who was going to get turned into a ghost.
Darren: It’s more interesting than just lining people up to get possessed or killed. It’s probably not for everybody. Some people won’t like what they’re trying to do here but I would rather they try something a bit different than it just be a retread of the movies stretched over six episodes.
Dr. Lauren: I think it’s good that they’ve kept the series short and that the episodes are short too. If they’d tried to stretch that out over a longer series or longer episodes it would have been too much.
Darren: Oh yeah, I agree. Six episodes is a good length and having each one just run for half an hour works. The temptation would be to have them run forty-five or fifty minutes and pad it out but this is enough. By the time it gets to episode six, it’s tying everything up that it should. Any longer and it would have felt its length, I think.
Dr. Lauren: Agreed. I don’t know about you but I was exhausted by the end of it.
Darren: That’s the thing. It’s quite wearing even though it’s only half an hour per episode because it’s so downbeat and grim. It takes an emotional toll on you. At the end of it, part of me was impressed at the job they’d done but part of me was definitely thinking “Thank fuck that’s over”. You’re just battered by the unrelenting misery that’s in front of you.
Dr. Lauren: If you are someone who enjoyed watching Chernobyl, for example…
Darren: I did enjoy watching Chernobyl!
Dr. Lauren: So did I.
Darren: It’s in that ballpark. Something where you think “This can’t get any worse”. And then it does.
Dr. Lauren: I think we can leave it there.
Dr. Lauren: 3.5 / 5
Darren: 3.5 / 5