Asian horror is both a treasure trove and a rabbit hole. When you find a gem that’s too good to not be seen, you can’t help but dig deep until you drown in a chock-full watchlist. That is how I felt when I first saw The Butcher (2008), a found-footage pseudo-snuff film from South Korea. I became engrossed in searching for found footage films from Asia, specifically East Asia, since I’m in dire need of palate-cleansing from too much Western found footage. One of my best finds was also one of the hardest to come by. I have been eyeing Norio Tsuruta’s POV: A Cursed Film for some time now, and thankfully, a friend of mine has a digital copy lying on his laptop.
POV maintains the intensity and originality of found footage treatment Koji Shiraishi became known for with his Noroi: The Curse. However, Tsurata ups the ante by creating what we could call a “found footage film about a found footage within a found footage film.” It’s a three-layered experience that any devotee of the subgenre shouldn’t miss, as it is bursting with twists that elevate the experience in every reveal.
Following a strange unexplained phenomenon while recording a TV broadcast, actresses Haruna Kawaguchi and Mirai Shida and the camera crew investigate the incident. Unbeknownst to them, their pursuit will only lead to a series of unfortunate events in a seemingly haunted high school. What makes the premise a lot more interesting is that the actresses played themselves in the film, something The Blair Witch Project (1999) capitalized on with their cast. Their involvement alone heightens the believability of the events. Their performance is one of the film’s highlights because the actresses really embodied the angst of teenage girls in the showbiz industry and the panic of being at the center of a paranormal occurrence.
The setting echoes the ominous premise of The Ring (1998), where all paranormal events originated from a mysterious videotape. POV then maximizes our intrigue with ghosts caught on camera, creating an exposition around the perfect use of spaces and anticipation that they would be using as the film goes on. The ghost videos are freaky, mainly due to their use of the empty restroom, ominous sound, and camera work. The build-up in the first 20 minutes is enough to make you more curious about the existence of the mysterious found footage and the paranormal events that unfolded with it.
It is rather gratifying that they maintain the intensity of the events until the haunted high school investigation. They made use of the spaces in the empty school to engender discomfort, as the camera angles of wide-open hallways and vacant classrooms demand relentless probing, with the hope that we might find an anomaly of some sort. Spooky episodes from the mysterious CD tell us that horror comes from these hollow spaces, which is a nice flex of cinematic prowess as the first turnabout of events challenges this fixation. They play this scene so well that the ensuing events of the investigation become harder to digest.
The surprises don’t stop there. The blackout scene following the twist tops the intensity by utilizing the empty hallways and rooms once again, but this time with their innovative and scary use of one of the camcorders of the crew. Juxtaposed with the crew cornered by the pounding sounds and inching shadows from every side of the hallway is how they freely roamed the empty high school building not too long ago. Then claustrophobia deliberately creeps in when they search for a way out of the haunted building. Even their pursuit for an exit becomes too distressing, as the school that was once spacious shrinks and their movements become restrained by the absence of light and unearthly ghost sounds.
The whole high school disaster is an eerie experience, with a well-established atmosphere and another reveal that no one could have guessed. And yes, the film still has something up its sleeve after its supposed ending credits because we find out that what we saw is a full-length found footage film within another found footage film. Tsuruta leaves us a sweet twist to the subgenre, as he switches from mockumentary to found footage in the most unexpected way. There’s too much to unpack during its last 15 minutes. We get to see another glimpse of the irking state of showbiz, its toll on the talents, and have a final glimpse into the mystery that would tap why POV is a three-layered found footage exploit. And you should not take your eyes off the screen until the post-credit as it poses the unasked question: who’s filming who?
The film offers an amazing ride, but it also has its bumps along the way. While both actresses delivered a convincing act, the supporting ones failed to do so. The high school teacher and the manager are two of its weakest points, as they give a confused portrayal of their characters. They become annoying along the way, especially when the high school teacher becomes frantic during their school shut-in. Another problem falls on the second unveiling of events. The bearer of the twist didn’t come as surprising as it should because the story build-up does not favor the character at all. The third problem falls on the possessor of the camera. The director, who was relentlessly pushing for the filming of the haunted school, becomes a dormant participant as the film progresses. It is a recurrent syndrome in most found footage films, and to see the film fall on it was really disappointing.
POV: A Cursed Film provides a breath of fresh air to the horror subgenre, with its mystery and creativity reminding us why we loved found footage films in the first place. Those who fancy school horror might also want to take a shot at this one for the whole school catastrophe is something to look forward to. The film is proof that Shiraishi is not the only one dedicated to immortalizing the subgenre in Asia. It also ascertains that Asia is, indeed, a treasure trove of horror films waiting to be unearthed and discovered.