October 12, 2006

DVD Review: The Booth

What a strange little movie. The Booth is another J-horror import, seeking stardom on new shores. It is not a great film, but it is definitely intriguing, and a nice change of pace from the seemingly endless stream of ghostly fright flicks, like The Ring, Dark Water, and Ju-on. This takes a much more real world approach, although the actual events are open to interpretation.

The booth of the title is first introduced as a man is conducting radio show. During one of the calls, the line of questioning takes a strange turn, and the man winds up hanging himself right there in the booth. The booth is then abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair.

Thirty years later, Shingo, host of a late night relationship advice show moves into the studio while his current studio equipment is moved. During his show, strange things happen, first someone or thing cuts into the phone line and calls our host a liar, while strange creeking sounds play in the background. These events are blamed on the old and faulty equipment, and possibly on the studio being haunted by the suicidal DJ from the past.

There is another possibility, as the movie plays out, Shingo becomes more and more paranoid. We are presented with flashbacks that tie in with the topic of his show. Shingo thinks of the possibility that his crew may be playing an elaborate hoax on him. To tell more would ruin the surprises that are in store.

The Booth is not particularly scary. There is no blood, no jump scares, and no horrifying killer. It does succeed at creating a rather creepy tone. The claustrophobic nature of the shoot helps a lot in that regard. Nearly all of the action takes place in the booth, and most of the reveals are done through the dialog. The piece is hurt by the booth not actually being all that old feeling, sure there are mentions of old equipment and musty headphones, but the look just isn't there.

There is one thing, above all else, that brings this film up a notch. The performance of Ryuta Sato as Shingo is excellent. He begins the film as this cocky know-it-all host, complete with condescending attitude towards his callers and his crew, as the calls come in this night, and all of the strangeness that goes with it, he loses the attitude and becomes a quivering shell of a man as his past and present collide and fracture is psyche. Without his perfect portrayal, this would not have been nearly as good as it is.

We are treated to a well written psychological trip of horror, rather than anything visceral or explicit. The Booth is all about the atmosphere. Sadly, it does fail in the visual aspect. It does have a suitably claustrophobic, trapped, feel of the booth, but there is nothing particularly creepy about it outside of the closed in feel. Fortunately, the script works wonders at peeling awy the outer layers of our star's psyche, as he slowly cracks over the course of the short 74 minute running time.

Audio/Video. The disk looks OK, it is no reference material. The video transfer features a 1.85:1 anamorphic video, with no major problems. It may be a tad muddy looking, but there is nothing to have any real complaints about. There are three audio tracks to choose from, DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digitial 2.0. They all sound fine, this movie is squarely focused on dialogue, with little use of surrounds.

Extras. There are a couple to choose from here:
  • The Making of The Booth. This runs nearly 20 minutes and features on set footage, casting footage, and the cast having some fun. It is not really pieced together like a documentary, but it has some good footage.
  • Q&A with Director and Actor. This was shot after a screening in Japan.
  • On-Air Interview with the Filmmakers. Some more footage with the team. Both interviews are moderately interesting.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer.

Bottomline. This is not the best example of Japanese horror, but it is an interesting pschological thriller. It has a good structure and a good lead performance that make it worthy of a rental.

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