A film crew head to the mysterious country mansion of a deceased artist to uncover his lost paintings, only to be terrorized by the ghost of his wife. Film director Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro), his daughter Emi (Nokko), producer Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto), reporter and host Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), and crewman Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) enter the mansion in the woods unsuspecting of their fate. They are delighted to discover a never-before-seen mural depicting a mother with child, but soon things begin to take a sinister turn. Asuka begins speaking in tongues and digs up the coffin of an infant outside. The crew come to realise that the house is haunted, or ‘cursed’ as they are later told by elderly gas station manager Yamamura (Juzo Itami) who comes to their aid. The terrifying backstory of the Mamiya family is brought to light and the crew find themselves in a fight for survival against the violent spirit of Lady Mamiya.
“Sweet Home”, written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, was released alongside a videogame of the same name. This video game was one of the primary inspirations behind the original “Resident Evil” game, which has since gone on to spawn numerous sequels and a film series of its own. Kurosawa’s film is based on a simple premise, a cursed house that the group must survive, one that allows the characters and outrageous action to take precedence. In many ways the reason for them being at the mansion is insignificant, the central story is of what happened to the Mamiyas and how they are going to escape with their lives. Lady Mamiya’s backstory is a gothic, gruesome tale; mostly told in exposition it nevertheless provokes a shudder. The film varies in tone from knockabout comedy, such as when Taguchi nearly accidentally decapitates Kazuo with a hefty axe he found in a shed, to some increidble gore effects in the latter half that stand alongside the best in the splatter film genre. The mix of simple effects, CG effects, and audacious practical monster effects make for an enjoyable watch for fans of fantastical horror. The cast do a great job, both in the lighthearted comedy and the horror action. The relationships between the widower Kazuo and his daughter, and Kazuo and Akiko, are engaging and provide a solid secondary plot thread through the shocks and scares of the main story. Kurosawa’s direction makes the most of the locations, filling them with dark shadows, and making the mansion come alive. It treads several well-worn tropes (the eerie mansion, the local who warns them of danger, the group dynamics of comedic and serious characters), but the skill of the director is in creating something that is fun and engaging even with that familiar premise.
Themes of family run strongly through the film, with Kazuo and Emi having lost a wife and mother, and the story of Lady Mamiya revolving around the loss of her own child in horrifying circumstances. The relationship between Kazuo and Emi is the reverse of Mamiya who lost a child. The loss of his wife has left Kazuo unsure of how to raise his daughter and unable to form new relationships, for example with Akiko. Likewise, Emi seems to be missing her mother, though in subtler ways, perhasp the reason she wants her father to remarry. Their drama is at odds with the events that occur at the Mamiya mansion, almost a completely separate narrative about trying to rediscover love and rebuild a relationship with a bereaved child. However, it is this juxtaposition that makes the film exciting. “Sweet Home” has a knack for turning on a sixpence from chilling to funny to poignant, switching emotional register without skipping a beat. The disparate elements create something that is hugely entertaining, with moments to please horror fans of all kinds.