New Religion - Fright Fest World Premiere Review
Director: Keishi Kondo
Starring: Kaho Seto, Satoshi Oka, Saionji Ryuseigen, Daiki Nunami
Written by: Keishi Kondo
Produced by: Keishi Kondo
Cinematography by: Sho Mishina
Original Score by: Akihiko Matsumoto, Abul Mogard, Miimm, Zeze Wakamatsu
In the aftermath of her daughters tragic death, a call girl meets a new customer who only wants to takes pictures of specific parts of her body. But soon after their introduction she begins to believe she has made a connection with her dead child
Japan has offered up some of the most bizarre, interesting and unique genre films of all time (particularly in the last three decades) and now a new voice has risen from the land of the rising sun and his name is Keishi Kondo and if his work here on 'New Religion' is anything to go by he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Kondo takes huge influences from the works of Nicolas Winding Refn, particularly the colour palettes of 'Only God Forgives', and the visual style of David Lynch too. But he uses the inherent grief associated with losing a child as a base for all the horror that simmers here. 'New Religion' is a brave and contemplative supernatural horror film that isn't afraid to to take its time and has zero intention of explaining itself. It's the kind of film you might have to revisit a number of times if you really want to understand it all but its convuluted hypnotism is actually the real beauty of the film. It's full of psychological, esoteric fear and explores the deep, dark corners of where the mind goes during (and after) the grieving process.
Miyabi is struggling to come to terms with her daughters accidental death, which was entirely avoidable. If only she had been paying better attention to her daughter a few minutes before she fell from her high rise apartment. Time has passed but the grief is still very real, and so is the guilt. Miyabi is now working as a call girl and living with a new boyfriend. One day at work she meets a new customer called Oka. A strange looking man with powerful eyes that could stare a hole right through your head. Oka just wants to take pictures and Miyabi obliges. Her feet comes first, then her spine and after more meetings, Oka has taken pictures of almost every part of Miyabi's body. Strangely the photography sessions aren't sexual or exploitative, at least not in any profuse way, however they are life changing for Miyabi. She begins to "feel" things touching her in her apartment and she has allowed herself to believe that her dead daughter is present with her again. But this isn't a simple ghost story about the power of grief. There's something more sinister going on behind Oka's eyes and Miyabi isn't the only one who's been affected by him.
RELATED: Exclusive Interview with Writer/Director Keishi Kondo
'New Religion' is as exceptional as it is creepy. A powerful and beautifully shot piece of art that flows ever so slowly and dreamlike to a heart-pounding climax. Director Keishi Kondo and DoP Sho Mishina are not only able to capture the loneliness after loss but the depressing alienation that comes with it too. They also explore the distressingly sad lack of acceptance in the wake of a tragedy and the brutal but very real tendency to deal with this type of affliction by simply pretending it never happened. The repetitive shots of the apartment ledge, where the camera often holds for reaction, helps the viewers to enter the tormented and distraught mind of Miyabi, who clearly cannot disassociate her consciousness away from it. The long pauses where the child fails to exist anymore is what Miyabi deals with on a daily basis and Kondo wants us to feel just a little bit of that frustratingly painful emptiness. One of the genius things about the film is that we never see the child fall or hear her scream or ever get an overly emotional reaction from Miyabi. Like the film itself, her daughters death is very dreamlike.
Oka, the menacing man with the camera, really reminded me of Bob from 'Twin Peaks'. He's not overtly terrifying in anything that he does, unlike Bob, however he just has a screen presence that made my skin crawl. Part of that has to come down to the lighting of the shots in which Oka appears. It is deeply malevolent and Oka's vehemence is heightened by the fact that he doesn't talk in a regular way. He communicates via a voice box built into his throat. It's a deep, guttural, robotic voice but not cheesy at all. It's quite terrifying and commands your attention. Its almost like God (or the Devil) is talking to you.
What's even more tragic about the story that unfolds throughout 'New Religion' is the philosophical idea that Oka is somehow stealing a part of Miyabi's soul by taking pictures of her body. We find out through a work colleague that what eventually happens to Miyabi has also happened to other girls. By taking pictures of the girls, Oka somehow seizes control over them in unexplainable ways and their fears, or their weaknesses to be more exact, are used against them to cripple their innocence and empathy. Kondo has since hinted at a connection with modern day social media and how too often we allow ourselves to become enslaved to our technology and more importantly how our technology influences us and changes our mindset, particularly those of us that are extremely vulnerable and credulous. Oka could be a metaphor for that or maybe Oka really is the Devil.
The visuals in this film are stunning, especially towards the end when we get to see more of the surreal stuff. And the soundscape of the film is genuinely haunting. It got me thinking about Jonathan Glazer's 'Under the Skin', a phenomenal film that I probably will never rewatch because of how unsettling it is. Ironically 'New Religion' will 100% get under your skin whether you like it or not. And as mentioned earlier in this review, there is definitely a Lynchian vibe from the lighting and set pieces and even some comparative shot homages to Stanley Kubrick's iconic '2001: A Space Odyssey'. The pace of the film will likely not be to everyones taste. It is remarkably slow and it is absolutely necessary for the viewer to be fully focused and give themselves up to the film exclusively. If you do this I promise that 'New Religion' will leave a mark on you that won't easily heal.
'New Religion' is a dread inducing, profoundly beautiful and heartbreakingly creepy film that needs to be seen by as many eyes as possible.
- Gavin Logan
'New Religion' received its World Premiere at FrightFest 2022 on August 29th