Starring: Michiko Hada, Mari Hoshino, Tae Kimura and Yoko Maki
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3587
Certificate: 18
Available 24 July 2006

A small Japanese hospital is suffering from severe financial deprivation to the point that pharmaceutical companies are refusing to send them new supplies. Even the wages are late, but one young doctor convinces the other small handful of doctors and nurses working the night shift that they all have a moral obligation to look after their existing patients. One such patient with very severe burns somehow falls out of bed and abruptly goes into arrest. When the hospital staff attempt to revive him, the incorrect drug is administered resulting in the patient's death. For their own professional careers and the reputation of the hospital the small group of staff decide to cover-up the mistake. From the point they artificially heat the body so that it atrophies more quickly, events begin to take a sinister path. A woman patient talks incessantly to any reflective surface, as if she can see someone within the glass. A little boy turns up sporadically wearing a cat mask, and worst of all a highly infectious patient has been left with them by an ambulance. It quickly degenerates into a viscous slime which spreads a contagion of madness through the hospital. But are these events too unreal to be true?...

Infection is the second of six unrelated J-Horror films to come from the producers of The Ring trilogy, Ju-on: The Grudge, and Dark Water. As far as I'm concerned the announcement of any new quality Japanese (or indeed, East Asian) horror movies is cause for celebration. But does this example live up to the hype?

Well... Yes and no. I realise it's supposed to be the night shift and the hospital has no money, but the perpetually dark scenes make you feel the characters are wandering around the offices of an abandoned factory rather than a health authority building. The director Masayuki Ochiai wanted to turn the safe haven of a hospital into a place of terror, but I think the attempted oppressive claustrophobia is perhaps unrealistic for a hospital. Also, there is no genuine creepiness or supernatural scares that we've come to expect from this part of the world. Instead, Ochiai resorts to the cheap trick of sound jolts, with a character turning to discover someone standing right behind them. It's lucky the sound quality is so good or even this tactic would prove ineffective. Believe me, there's no need for this trickery because Infection has a lot to offer in other areas.

Primarily the film is highly original in its concept. The idea of a highly infectious mental contagion of unknown origin is inspired, because once you know how it spreads you can no longer totally trust what you see as being real. The young doctor is the last character to feel the effects, and in hindsight it's obvious why; the vast majority of events are witnessed by him personally. You wonder early on if it is because he was the last person to reluctantly agree to the cover-up. I won't give the end away, but I will say that the conclusion is not beyond the realms of predictability. The clues are evident throughout.

There are some nice set-piece moments. A young nurse who is continually refused the opportunity to administer injections suddenly decides to quite brutally practice on herself and, similarly, a man practices sutures on an artificial subject, only to realise, quite illogically, that he has been working on the burns victim. The green gelatinous ooze is effective when seen as infection in a mirror, but is so overdone throughout the film that you begin to wonder if the crew won a lifetime supply of Swarfega hand cleanser.

I can understand the intentions of the writer and director; this is something different which moves quickly enough to keep you watching, but it just isn't scary and that was my major disappointment. On the extras I watched a trailer for Premonition, the first release in the J-Horror Collection, and it looked infinitely more superior. I'll look forward to seeing that one.

Other extras include: ten separate Interviews with cast and crew; the Japanese Press Conference; a Movie Trailer; a dull Behind the Scenes featurette; and a Digital Effects Exposed short. The packaging mentions deleted scenes and film notes but, bizarrely, neither of these of present on the disc.

Ty Power

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