Infection
2005
A case of medical malpractice and a dead patient lead to panic and a cover-up in part one of director Masayuki Ochiai's horror trilogy. After the hospital staff buries the evidence, another patient turns up dying from peculiar symptoms, and before you know it, the doctors connected to the conspiracy begin coming down with a strange -- and lethal -- infection. Can anyone stop it? The cast includes Michiko Hada, Kaho Minami and Yôko Maki.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Few films illustrate the story-vs-style schism as well as this one does. Viewers like me who enjoy a creepy atmosphere and prolonged sense of dread will eat it up, while viewers who require a story will be disappointed. For horror fans, it delivers the necessary jolts and gore, but its pacing is decidedly slow, as if the characters are half-awake. It also has an annoying bad habit of cross-cutting several scenes together at once, such that we're taken out of each scene just as it's getting interesting, only to return minutes later.

These elements would be less annoying if the movie weren't so good otherwise. It takes place in an understaffed and desperately underfunded emergency room in the middle of the night, as the staff debates the cost of care, whether to ship their patients to other hospitals, whether to close to trauma, whether to conserve supplies even when they're needed. This is surprisingly well-grounded in reality for a cheap-shock horror film. At the end of the first act, there's an incident of unwitting malpractice and the staff uneasily conspires to cover it up, giving each character either fear of being caught or a guilty conscience. This event, interesting all by itself (this film could easily have been a gripping drama about hospital ethics instead of a horror movie), provides a strong psychological foundation for the terror that follows, by throwing the already-desperate characters off balance and establishing an air of paranoia and malfeasance at this creepy hospital. It's the masterstroke that makes the film work; without it, there'd be little to the movie but the jump scenes and gross-outs.

There's so much to like in this film, from the psychology of the horror, to the crisp blacks and greens that set the tone for this graveyard-shift ER, to the actors who capably communicate that they're ethical people trapped in an unethical situation. It's the kind of movie you don't mind not making sense because it's doing what it's doing so well. But it leans too hard on "shocking" revelations at the end, breaking the spell of the atmosphere, and it has that unfortunate slackness of pace. It's said this is the first film in a planned trilogy, and I'm already looking forward to the others, but that information is not crucial to enjoying it: This is a highly interesting little movie by itself, enough of an ethical tug-of-war to appeal to drama fans with enough skin-crawling shocks to appeal to horror fans. It's worth a rental.

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