Sometimes a little J-horror is just what the doctor ordered. P.O.V. – A Cursed Film is a recent example of how the best elements of the genre can be combined in one crafty horror movie. This 2012 Japanese film is directed by Norio Tsuruta and makes hay out of the found footage genre, generating a series of thrills much in the same vein as flicks like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project.
What sets P.O.V. apart from other found footage pictures is its penchant for twisting the genre like a pretzel. Not only does the movie feature a false finish, it nudges the more disturbing side of Japanese idol culture. It makes pretty decent use of the conception of “dangerous footage,” melting it with the film-within-a-film trope to alarming effect.
The picture cleverly stars two popular Japanese idols in Mirai Shida and Haruna Kawaguchi. They are playing themselves and are hosting a low budget chat show that seems to feature viewer-submitted videos. They feature some ghost stories and things take a freaky turn when the footage starts to look a little too real. It turns out that it was shot at Haruna’s junior high school.
The story leads to a trip to the school, of course, with Haruna and Mirai’s production team in tow. At the school, events begin to spiral out of control. A teacher plays the sceptic and the movie’s crew plays the eager group looking for the best footage. Haruna and Mirai try to put on their respective brave faces, but when it seems that the school may really have some serious issues things take a turn for the worst.
Tsuruta has the Japanese horror pedigree down, having delivered such films as Ringu 0: Bâsudei and Premonition. In the case of P.O.V., he shoots with a free grasp and allows the “footage” to speak for itself. He astutely clouds the imagery, preferring atmosphere and abrupt noises over drawing an audacious portrait.
Of course, the horror elements of P.O.V. aren’t exactly new. The J-horror clichés are all here, from the spine-chilling figures to the eerie shadows and so on. Tsuruta seems aware of the clichés and uses them to his advantage: he crafts an embryonic piece of principal footage, with characters watching the “same film” over and over again but spotting something different about it.
This is really what sets P.O.V. apart from the norm. Tsuruta’s concern isn’t with straightforward scares, but with viewing the fear through dissimilar angles. The cameras don’t lie, but what can be gathered can certainly be suspect to various uncontainable components.
This approach doesn’t always answer questions or tie up plot threads in concise fashion, but it does give more than a few provocative flashes. The use of “false credits” to show a third act taking place inside the theatre heartlessly showing events from inside the school is a nice touch.
P.O.V. isn’t perfect, but there’s more going on here than might be revealed at first blush. It’s easy to get hung up on clichés and jump-scares, but moving beyond the fear and into how that fear is treated and conveyed can make for a rewarding and frightening experience.