On their way back from school, two girls stop outside a convenience store. One of them seems terrified of the store and refuses to enter. As she walks backwards, cowering in fear, she is struck by a passing lorry in a gory explosion. It is a bold opening for a film that plays heavily on shock and unexpected moments. The story revolves around this convenience store which seems to be cursed, with strange occurrences happening to those connected to it and several customers. The story begins with the owner of another chain of stores, Ryoko Kagami (Kyoko Akiba), arriving to discuss with the owners the joining of their store with the Cosmo Mart franchise. The two owners are peculiar, spending the majority of their time gazing into the security camera feed as they spy on their part-time cashier Nao Shingaki (Hiroko Sato). A disturbing figure in a hooded coat, whose face is permanently in darkness, lingers around the store; and customers whose purchases total 666 or 999 are the victims of terrible and inexplicable happenings.
Based on a short story by Yumeaki Hirayama, “Cursed” is the directorial debut of Yoshihiro Hoshino, who also wrote the screenplay. This low-budget horror uses simple yet effective techniques to create an uncomfortable atmosphere and many moments of spine-tingling terror. A great example of this is a character who sees a white ball bouncing out of a darkened passageway, while a voice tempts him to come forward. These inexplicable moments help establish an eerie tone that keeps the audience on edge. The director uses framing and camera-work to equally brilliant effect, with the horrors often left to the audience’s imagination off screen. This feeling of dread that the film conveys helps the film makers skirt around the need for a larger budget. The film is not particularly gory, despite the sight of blood on occasion, but leans more heavily on the chills of the weird and ambiguous kind. It doesn’t always avoid the drawbacks of budget, with some of the tremendous work in building tension occasionally punctured by less polished effects. The film is packed with ideas; rather than relying on a single apparition it fills the run-time with doppelgangers, ghosts, curses, psychological traumas and more visceral scares. The actors do a good job with their characters. The shop owners are terrifying in their dead-eyed expressions, and Kyoko Akiba and Hiroko Sato do a good job as the protagonists attempting to figure out what is happening.
“Cursed” never offers a full answer as to what is happening at the store. While Ryoko and Nao do eventually hear a story that may explain the supernatural occurrences, it is the subtext of the film and the secondary explanation that is more interesting. It appears that Ryoko and Nao are able to see strange things that others cannot. This second-sight is easily read as some kind of sixth sense, but perhaps its significance is in having perception or empathy for those around them. The scene following this exposition sees a sequence that is largely incomprehensible without this reading, when Nao sets out to save her co-worker, Komori (Takaaki Iwao) from this apparent curse. Nao is able to see the horrors of everyday life and the impact they have on others, whether trauma or emotional suffering, suicide, death, or even murder. The focus on a convenience store also lends itself to this reading, as does the overplaying of news stories of crime that accompany part of the film. Horror is something that is almost banal in our society, we are everyday confronted by things that should terrify us yet we are able to compartmentalise them or shrug them off as unavoidable. People think nothing of going into a convenience store, unthinking consumerism is an opiate that means we never fully engage with the world around us and often ignore terrible things that happen to others. The film’s strength is in not fully explaining itself but leaving itself open to interpretation. Worth a watch if you are looking for some inspired low-budget horror.