Exte: Hair Extensions

Title: Exte: Hair Extensions
Original Title: Ekusute
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: Chiaki Kuriyama, Ren Osugi, Miku Satô
Director: Sion Sono
Language: Japanese

Capping my marathon of a man I've been intending to watch more of for far too long already comes the film I couldn't not end on; now getting sufficiently dark outside that the atmosphere for a horror film feels appropriate, and starring the ever-welcome presence of Chiaki Kuriyama whose work constantly seems to find itself in my collection (albeit most, if not all, pre-date this blog), this infamous film sounds like it just has to be a comedy. When hair extensions start terrorising a small town, it's all the police can do to track down the culprit; a deranged hair obsessed maniac who stole a body from the morgue for her beautiful hair which mysteriously seems to constantly grow. He soon realises that she isn't quite dead but her hair still lives on, angry over the brutal manner in which she was killed, re-living the experience in those that wear locks of her luscious hair for their own vanity and often killing them in the process. Of course nobody suspects a thing, because its fucking hair, and dead hair at that. But this is Sion Sono were dealing with here, and somehow he's managed to turn what should be a goofball parodical comedy, and indeed certainly does start out like one, into something else.

In fact, it's fairly impressive what he actually manages to accomplish with such a premise; there are a number of horror scenes that are surprisingly well done without merely relying on gratuitous bloodshed, quite possibly a first for this director who usually seems to have difficulty in making a film without at least a few pints thrown about at some point, and instead focusses far more on CGI and what can be accomplished with its usage. He's been fairly careful not to over do it here though; where ever possible in creating the backdrops or in many of the appropriate scenes he's spent the time and effort into utilising actual hair, monstrously devouring its victims, only relying on the CGI for when the hair takes on a genuine life of its own, rapidly growing or receding, or getting under the skin of our unwilling targets, striving to get under our own at the same time. This minimalist usage is more than just expected as the only feasible way to accomplish such tasks, but actually done well – something I say increasingly rarely as time goes by – and as a result is fairly successful in achieving its goal.

But if you read any of my other reviews for this director, you'll have noticed the recurrent theme of not being able to leave any genre film alone, incessantly dabbling in other outside influences and bringing them into his work, and here the situation is no different. There is some comic relief to the horror proceedings – though I should re-iterate that this is in no way a comedy – largely stemming from our hair obsessed maniac's antics, well utilised to lend some downtime from the at times rather heavy atmosphere, but it's really the dramatic side that lends this sense of overwhelming weightiness. When a stylist-in-training, Yuko, finds her niece farmed off to her for the weekend, it's all she can do to look after the child, but it soon becomes apparent that she gets abused at home leading to a confrontation with her sister, and a slow bond to develop between the two. There are mentions of Yuki's dark past, and the relationship between her and her sister never really gets thoroughly explored; outside of the joys of watching her and Mami, the abused child now under her care, there is also plenty of wiggle room to show the manner she gradually overcomes the consequences of her mistreatment and comes to trust the aunt now watching over her.

This aspect is still done remarkably well – in fact it was done better than the horror was, which is perhaps a little worrying – but it simply feels wasted, like there's really two entirely different films here that just happen to intersect in the final moments. As a preceding experiment for the masterpiece, “Love Exposure,” you can see him toning things back from this but rather than gently flow from style to style, this plot thread lasts for as long as the core story does, and with a two hour run time and no shortage of options for expanding on the side plot, I do wonder if they wouldn't fare better as shorter individual films. As it stands we get snapped out of the horror atmosphere and into a moving drama, only to be thrust back into the horror side of things and necessitating the build-up of the atmosphere all over again, and this is where the film ultimately falters. It's fairly tragic considering how well both aspects were done, but the two threads are both different enough and strong enough in their own right that simply slamming them together does not a masterpiece make.


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