(May contain some spoilers)
Possessed body parts are nothing new to the film horror genre. There have been a number of movies about cursed eyes (The Eye), demonic hands (Idle Hands, The Hand), sinister facial grafts (Tanin No Kao), reanimated human tissue (Re-Animator) and haunted arms (Body Parts) but
none have been stranger than Sono Sion's latest creepy thriller "Exte" which has to be a first in the annals of movie horror with its subject matter - cursed hair.
Starring Kuriyama Chiaki (she of the big nose and "Olive Oyl" lanky figure), the movie is a bizarre tale of a vengeful spirit of a young girl, who was the victim of illegal organ harvesting, left to die but only to have her restless spirit manifest itself as living "demonic" hair which would possess its victims (by entering into their body) and manipulate the host's own hair follicles to often deadly effects (rapid growth which would result in strangulation and suffocation).
While the plot may sound utterly ridiculous, "Exte" is a surprisingly effective horror film with several moments of genuine terror.
Kuriyama plays Mizushima Yuko, a fledgling beautician in a small coastal Japanese town. She is training with a local stylist (Yamamoto Mirai) at a beauty salon called "Gilles de Rais" (odd that a salon would be named after a French aristocratic serial killer and murderer of children).
Her world would soon be turned upside down by the sudden appearance of her young niece, Mami (Sato Miku) who is the daughter of her older sister Kiyomi (Tsugumi). Mami has been abandoned by her witch of a mother and now Yuko and her roommate Yuki (Sato Megumi) must care for her. They will soon discover that she has also been severely abused by Kiyomi, to the point that Mami is emotionally and psychologically
As Yuko tries to deal with this personal problem. A gruesome discovery is made at one of the local shipping docks. A dead body of a young girl is found in a shipping container filled with human hair. Upon further examination, the body is discovered to be filled with human hair. A hair fetish "Otaku", Yamazaki Gunji (Osugi Ren) who happens to work in the morgue, steals the body and soon realizes that this body can rapidly grow hair not only from the head but also from various open orifices (the mouth, eyes, ears, open cuts). He soon decides (or rather is compelled) to sell this special hair to the local hair salons as "exte" (hair extensions).
Unfortunately, these "exte" have a life of their own and soon possess and kill the women that the hair is attached to. Yamazaki is also driven insane by the haunted hair and soon seeks out other victims with beautiful hair, with Yuko and Mami being such women. Yuko must not only protect Mami from Gunji but also from Kiyomi who has returned to take back Mami.
The screenplay by (Kimyo Na Circus, Noriko No Shokutaku) and Adachi Masaki (who served as Second Director on movies such as "Ju-On:The Grudge" and "Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara) is a hopelessly contrived story but one that is done amazingly well and with relative seriousness.
It is surprising how creepy some of the SFX effects work with the hair are and while there are some scenes which border on the absurd and cartoonish, the overall horror effects are shocking.
One nagging plot point however is never really explained. We never really know who the young girl is in the container and while there are flashbacks of her ordeal before her death, Sono refuses to give us any details of her life or explanations as to how she is able to reanimate and control her body hair. It's an irritatingly MacGuffin contrivance but one that doesn't really kill the entertainment value of the film.
Kuriyama plays her part well and is quite good as Yuko. Child actress Sato Miku is definitely the standout with her portrayal of the abused Mami. While Osugi's manic and over-the-top villainy as Yamazaki is pure camp, the real chilling performance is Tsugumi's "mother from hell" Kiyomi. She is the true monster in this movie and her "Mommy Dearest" abusiveness to Mami will definitely spark much hatred for her character.
J-Dorama fans will recognize a lot of familiar faces in this Toei movie with Natsuo Yuna, Ebisu Yoshikazu, Sakuma Mayu, Yamamoto Mirai all having small parts/cameos in the movie.
"Exte" is nowhere near as good as "Juon", "Ring" or other seminal supernatural J-Horror films of late but is still an effective thriller. Despite the hopelessly unbelievable plot, sometimes cartoonish special effects, and Osugi's tongue-in-cheek performance, the film somehow works.