At some point in 2021, I was asked by my superior at my job as a games journalist to create quizzes for the website, because content. While a lot of topics were pretty large names that were relevant at the time, one franchise I ended up doing a quiz for was Fatal Frame. Researching the series erected interest in trying out the game for myself (have yet to do so). Some time later, I came to find out something even more fascinating: Fatal Frame got a movie!
With the whole “There has never been a good video game movie” stigma out there, I’m surprised this hasn’t been brought up more. At least based on Letterboxd user scores, this has a pretty reputable consensus. That, combined with the lingering curiosity I have for its video game parent, invited me to give this a shot and see how it fared.
“High school student Aya Tsukimori becomes cursed and is unable to leave her school dormitory. Meanwhile, many students begin reporting ghost sightings at the school, while others go missing and are later discovered to have drowned mysteriously. Soon, Aya attempts to communicate with fellow student Michi Kazato, who begins investigating the disappearances of her friends.”
Unfortunately, this is not a curse-breaker. Video game films are still not great, though a silver lining can be found in this being… serviceable.
I can also technically cross off the “horror” quota for this year’s festivities! Full disclosure: This film is not scary. There are maybe two moments that could constitute as jump scares, but they come off more as flinch-inducers. What “horror” this presents is mostly alluded to, rather than explicitly shown. About on par with a middle-school ghost story around the campfire.
A little more of that horridness present within the events could’ve provided great benefit here. As it is, my number-one complaint of the whole is that it’s borderline lethargic. A substantial effort it was for me to stay awake for a good portion of this, particularly after the opening act. Much is made about this spirit that seems to be cursing people, that happens to look a lot like a popular classmate secluding herself in her bedroom. Involving plenty of characters with no distinct personality, it repeats the process of disappearance ad nauseum.
Hard to say whether this is something founded on objective reasoning or if I’m just an asshole, but when it comes to ghost stories, I get annoyed by overexposure. People see this figure, become entranced, and end up possessed in trying to “free her.” They disappear without explanation. This process, or its rough estimates, takes up a good portion of the beginning sequences. I was begging behind dwindling eyelids for something to happen. That is when Aya, the popular classmate, came out of her room.
Another minor complaint: Some of the decisions this film makes to tie up any narrative loose ends are funny. The ending, for example—which I will not spoil—confounded me greatly. Not so much the logistics behind the seemingly paranormal circumstances, but small proclamations made by characters that are far greater than they seem. What I will say is this: someone forgot. Someone forgot about a horrible event and the perpetrator of said act. Trauma is complicated…
Yes, Fatal Frame is fairly dry and somewhat ridiculous logically. What ended up surprising me is that it wasn’t terrible, or even simply bad. In a reality where video game adaptations are generally considered blasphemy by the gaming realm, this is actually all right. While it has basically nothing to do with the parent franchise (perhaps to the chagrin of overzealous fans), it’s at least competent.
Performances were all right; no one really stood out as either good or bad. Pacing was deathly slow at first; thankfully, it picks up considerably once Aya enters the picture. And for as much as I complained about it, the central focus of “Ghost appears → Girl is seduced → Girl is possessed and goes missing” is treated with enough respect to earn a spooky nature. Ironically, its greatest strength is that it doesn’t fall all over itself when all is said and done.
Unless you look for something of a more political nature. This story is pretty unabashedly pro-gay, even showcasing one (and a half?) kissing scene(s) between girls. Subtext behind the scenes of the ghost story also provide detailed evidence that it’s an analogy for girls discovering their same-gender sexuality. Hell, Aya’s popularity goes beyond fanaticism—I believe at one point someone states that the entire student body “loves” her. What kind of love, hmm?
Completely, totally, almost impressively “fine.” Not really exemplary in any facet and may as well not even be constituted as “horror.” Fatal Frame is about as common as they come; taking into account its “video game adaptation” label, that almost becomes a compliment. Whether a fan or not of the video game series, this is one that will more likely appeal to those who like things a little safer—more dreamy than scary.
Final Score: 5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
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