This is the J-Horror at its most methodical, although it’s not necessarily always grimly methodical. Shimizu is careful and intelligent, constructing a non-linear narrative that at first seems sloppy but reveals itself as quite tight and able to branch out into further unsettling territory with a number of unexplained, inexplicable visions of the future on the part of the haunted characters. Shimizu is not as fond of silence, stillness and outright stylishness as his sort-of mentor Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but he is skilled at using quietness and a sort of unremarkable, naturalistic cinematography to his advantage, of exercising restraint and allowing terror to build from the slow accumulation and recognition of sound design (Kayako’s horrifying death rattle), glimpsed horrific imagery, and the sense of a gaping black hole of vengeful, possibly-apocalyptic evil lurking amongst and reshaping the hazy everyday (the finest example of which is the three black-eyed, demonic schoolgirls who return to stalk their surviving peer).
But one can’t escape the feeling that, ultimately, this tale of supernatural revenge is little more than a sophisticated slasher film, a cinematic scrapbook of victims and somewhat repetitive murders. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this (outside, of course, of possible moral arguments about the healthiness of such sadistic and punishing entertainment), but as a film Ju-On lacks the lasting impact of Kurosawa’s contemporaneous work because it has so little of the probing philosophical intensity that marks the best of his films and those of the wider genre and exists perhaps a little too much in the artistic void.